Saturday, July 08, 2006


Psychology in the nineteen-fifties played the role for many people that genetics does today. “It’s all in your head” has the same appeal as “It’s all in the genes”: an explanation for the way things are that does not threaten the way things are. Why should someone feel unhappy or engage in antisocial behavior when that person is living in the freest and most prosperous nation on earth? It can’t be the system! There must be a flaw in the wiring somewhere. So the postwar years were a slack time for political activism and a boom time for psychiatry.
Louis Menand
"Acid Redux"
The New Yorker (6/26/2006)
[review of Robert Greenfield's Timothy Leary]

Ed Fitzgerald | 7/08/2006 12:47:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


I'm sick of thinking up titles, too

[updated below]

Eliot Gelwan at Follow Me Here has a very interesting post about why he's blogging less lately. Some of his reasons apply to me as well.
  • Third, I have an incredible degree of Bush fatigue; it is not that I cannot get outraged anymore, but there is only a finite roster of ways in which a government can lie, cheat, steal, kill, destroy, and oppress. Bush and his minions have long since done them all; I have long since taken note of them here; nothing surprises me, and my outrage is constant and numbing.

  • And I have only a limited tolerance for my own frustration and despondency that a more effective movement of opposition has not arisen in response to his outrages. And I have no confidence that weblogs like FmH are change agents. (I don't know what would be effective activism these days, I guess, but I can no longer rationalize as I did for so long that FmH was an integral form of activist activity)


  • And, yes, the 'landfill' of useless blowhard weblogs proliferates, but so too are there more of those who do have something thoughtful to say, or something interesting to link to. They've gotten there first and said it better, whatever 'it' is.

It'a increasingly the case that many of the opinions that I would once have found myself compelled to post have already been posted elsewhere, many times expressed better than I could possibly achieve, so that any post of mine would wind up being mere cheerleading, the kind of "me too" writing that I've always found annoying in private e-mail groups -- so I end up not doing it. The few times recently where I've had an idea that I thought was interesting or not widely known, and I post about it, in the next day or so the idea turns up all over the place, a classic example of "great minds think alike" -- people with similiar orientations responded in similar ways to similar stimuli -- and since my circulation is so tiny, and theirs is so large, I don't even get credit for originality, because basically no one even knows I've managed to walk ahead of the wave by a couple of hours.

I know this sounds like I'm into blogging for the egoboo, and I suppose that's in some part true (and the lack of ego stroking contributes to my blogging fatigue because of lack of positive reinforcement), but it something more subtle than that: it's turned out that blogging is, in its own way, just as frustrating as yelling at the TV, except that I don't strain my voice.

Anyway, read what Eliot has to say.

Update: In the FmH comment thread, Medley makes some excellent points:

one way I avoid worrying about the originality quotient (and something I encourage TheGuy with too - as his weblog writing has fallen off even more than mine) is to note that I (and he, and probably you) have readers who don't read any other blogs (or read very few). So to them, it's fresh or new. *shrug*

I think for anyone with an academic or, especially, scientific background, the compulsion to break new ground or find some new take or analytical point to make is hard to shake. But, it's really not required in this medium. Another point: sometimes people need to hear an idea several times, in several different ways, before it sinks in. (In science... (and especially math - where I started a long time ago), the idea is that it should be good enough to say it (argue it, prove it) once.. and there, it's done! Sometimes I think part of my frustration with the world comes from thinking that assumption applies, when it doesn't.
Eliot concurs:
About the business of things being good enough to be said only once -- in academic fields, your audience follows the literature closely enough so that that works. They got it the first time. The same cannot be said to be true of a weblog's audience, unless it is a very very technical/specific weblog.

Ed Fitzgerald | 7/08/2006 01:38:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Avoiding incomparables

[updated below]

Now that Terry Wallis has awakened after 22 years of being in a "minimally conscious state," we will undoubtedly see lots of blathering on the right about how they were correct about Terry Schiavo, despite the fact that the conditions of Wallis and Schiavo were not the comparable:
Minimal consciousness is not uncommon after a severe brain injury, affecting at least 25,000 people in the United States. But unlike a coma, which usually lasts only a few weeks after an accident, a minimally conscious state can be prolonged for months or years. Patients are for the most part unaware of their surroundings and unable to communicate, but they may occasionally utter words, reach for objects, or respond to questions. (This condition is distinct from the vegetative state, which can also last for months or years but is not characterized by such intermittent awareness.)

Schiavo was, of course, in a persistent vegetative state and not a state of minimal consciousness, so there was no hope for the kind of recovery the very fortunate Mr. Wallis had.

Ms. Schiavo suffered more profound brain damage than Mr. Wallis and did not show signs of responsive awareness, according to neurologists who examined her. [New York Times]

The hopelessness of Schiavo's condition was confirmed by her autopsy:

Schiavo's brain damage "was irreversible . . . no amount of treatment or rehabilitation would have reversed" it, said Jon R. Thogmartin, the pathologist in Florida's sixth judicial district who performed the autopsy and announced his findings at a news conference in Largo, Fla. [Washington Post]

Of course, these facts won't stop the right from pressing ahead -- ideology always trumping reality for them:

Terry Wallis’ remarkable recovery after 19 years, however, stands in stark opposition to the case of Terri Schindler-Schiavo, who received no therapy from her philandering husband after her 1990 collapse. She was instead dehydrated to death by court order in March 2005. Although some doctors claim that Terri Schiavo could not have made Terry Wallis’ recovery since she was in a persistent vegetative state (PVS), witnesses such as former nurse Carla Iyer maintained that with therapy, Schiavo, who said words like “mommy, help me”, could have indeed recovered over time. [LifeSiteNews]

Autospy evidence be damned! They want her to have been able to speak and see (the autopsy determined that she was blind), so she must have spoken and seen. Ideology demands it, and so it must be.

Update: Jake Young at Pure Pedantry has a lot more on the difference between a state of minimal consciousness and a persistent vegetative state:

To emphasize the point, there is a huge area of difference between someone who has essentially only the housekeeping functions in the brain and someone who -- for reasons metabolic or traumatic -- comes in and out of consciousness intermittently. It is very unfortunate that Terry Wallis was misdiagnosed in this case, because the prognosis for individuals with minimally conscious state -- while not fabulous -- is much better than for a persistent vegetative state. I just thought I would get the distinction out of the way early lest people go into a flurry of speculation about how all people in comas now have the possibility of recovery. Terry Wallis had a possibility of recovery because he had a condition that allowed for recovery. Terry Schiavo did not.

There's a lot more as well.

Ed Fitzgerald | 7/05/2006 11:26:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Lieberman on elections

[updated below]

Joe Lieberman on the purpose of elections (from In Praise of Public Life (2000)):
[T]he notion of term limits has never made sense to me. It precludes the possibility of a legislator building expertise over time. It denies the value of experience. And it ignores the fact that our political system already includes built-in term limits decided by the voting public every two, or four, or six years -- they are called elections.

Where the concept of political careerism truly becomes an issue, it seems to me, is around the question of purpose. It is important, of course, to understand a person's purpose for choosing to enter political life. In almost every case I know of, as a person begins his political career, those intentions are honorable and sincere. But they don't always stay that way. Once people enter this life, they become vulnerable to a host of pressures and forces that can skew their purpose, sometimes without their awareness. It is these forces -- partisanship, special interest groups, the need for money, the demands of campaigning, the power of the media -- that can twist a politician's priorities and make keeping one's seat become more important than what one does while sitting in it. That is when the voters should, and usually do, vote the wayward politician out of office, because that's the way the system cleanses and corrects itself.

[Emphasis added - Ed]

Apparently, Lieberman's understanding of the purpose of elections expressed here doesn't extend to primaries, which, judging by his recent remarks and actions, he appears to think ought to be rubber-stamps for incumbents. Also, looking at the excerpt above, he seems to believe that only corruption of a politician's initial purpose is a sufficient reason to remove them from office, totally ignoring the possibility that the politician's purpose may have been revealed to be at odds with that of the electorate, or that the politician's actions have met with the disapproval of his or her constituents -- both of which are obviously valid reasons not to re-elect.

It should be said that Leiberman's act of extreme disloyalty to the Democrats of Connecticut (indeed to all Democrats everywhere) is only egregious because of the predicament we find ourselves in. Loyalty, in general, is a fine principle to uphold, but there are times when it can get in the way of doing the right thing, and in those situations jettisoning the bonds of loyalty can be the ethical and moral thing to do. That is in no way the case in our current situation.

With the Republicans in control of all branches of the Federal government, and with the right-wing controlling or dominating the media, the damages that have been done (and continue to be done) to our country can only be stopped and then undone through the concerted and coordinated efforts of the Democratic Party. It is the only available mechanism by which the Republican oligarchy can be overthrown, and, because of that, disloyalty to the party at this moment in time is an especially egregious sin.

Update (7/10): In a post on Ombuddy Ken Balbari takes me to task for "miscomprehend[ing] a perfectly reasonable quote from a book of Senator Lieberman's, and further, fail[ing] to provide any evidence in terms of 'recent remaks or actions' to support his charge." I responded:

There was no miscomprehension [on] my part of the meaning of Lieberman's writing, which your readers can easily ascertain by clicking through the link. Lieberman says that he opposes term limits because elections every so many years serve that function, meaning that the voters have the opportunity to turn out an incumbent at regular intervals.

Lieberman does indeed list "partisanship, special interest groups, the need for money, the demands of campaigning, the power of the media" as among the pressures and forces which can skew a poltician's resolve and provide reason for their being dismissed by the electorate, but that list is hardly meant to be exhaustive, and voters can have any number of other reasons of their own for removing an incumbent who has displeased them -- prime among them that the politician's stances, votes and actions, are no longer in accord with the collective desires of the population. That is, essentially, what is happening in Connecticut right now, the electoral process is working precisely as Lieberman writes that it should work but, ironically (considering his opinion expressed in his book) he himself has expressed disdain and outrage that the process has been directed at him.

By a simple analogy, primary elections serve political parties with the same function as general elections serve the general electorate, a chance to weigh in on who they wish to represent them. That, once again, is what's happening in Connecticut, with Lamont presenting Democratic voters with an alternative, and Lieberman fighting the *process* continually -- as opposed to fighting against *Lamont*. His latest tactic is to take out an insurance policy whereby he may be represented on the ballot as an independent even if he loses the Democratic primary.

This is the gross act of disloyalty I referred to. Lierberman has always been a Democrat, and always held himself out as a representative of the Democratic party, was indeed the Democratic candidate for the second highest office in the land just a few years ago. For him to give the Democratic voters of Connecticut the back of his hand by saying, essentially, "I don't care what you want, I will do as I please" is totally disloyal to the party he's supposedly been part of for decades.

In fact, what Lieberman has become is exactly what he's written, someone for whom "keeping one's seat become more important than what one does while sitting in it." The Democratic primary is an opportunity for the voters of his party to determine if what he's done in office has met with their approval, but Leiberman refuses to follow their decision, and, in an effort to hang on to his seat, is willing to sell out his party and run as an independent.

All of this seems to me to be logically straightforward and supported by both the facts of the current situations and the words from Lieberman's book that I quoted. That you expected some sort of additional complex explication of well-known current events seems strange to me.

Ed Fitzgerald | 7/04/2006 03:43:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Monday, July 03, 2006


I went with my family to MoMA this afternoon, my first visit to the new building, and one of the things I came across in an exhibition of landscape photography was a photo by Geoffrey James, part of his Running Fence series which explores the first 14 miles of the border between Mexico and the U.S.:

Geoffrey James - Looking towards Mexico, Otay Mesa
This photo seems to exemplify everything that anti-immigrationists fear about our relationship with Mexico -- on the one side, the wide open spaces of America, on the other, the crowded underdeveloped warren of Mexicans. It was quite fascinating to see one photograph represent an ideological attitude so clearly.

(Please note that I'm not ascribing this attitude to James -- nor, obviously, am I endorsing it myself -- it seems to me that he's making a comment on the existence of that attitude.)

Thinking about the photograph afterwards, I was reminded of when I visited Niagara Falls about 25 or more years ago. In that case, the surrounding area on the American side is quite urban and developed, a northward extension of Buffalo, New York, but if you drive over to the Canadian side and ride out a bit, there's lots of farmland, and little signs of urban civilization. There may have been some more development on the Canadian side since I was there, but you can still get the sense of the difference with Google Maps satellite photos or from this Windows Live Local image, with Canada on the left of the river and the US on the right:

Ed Fitzgerald | 7/03/2006 05:26:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


A collection for the 4th

Here's a collection of quotes to ponder as we celebrate Independence Day.
These were a people who believed they were God's chosen, and looking about them, there was every reason that they should so believe. Their waters teemed with fish and their forests with game; there was absolutely nothing to prevent them fulfilling their vision of a new Jerusalem, and they set out with immense vitality to do so, and their successes for two hundred years has been one of the wonders of the modern world. This in spite of occasional wrong-turning and backsliding, and Americans, no matter how aware some of them are - and some of them are not - of their own shortcomings, remain the envy of the rest of the world.
James L. Stokesbury
A Short History of the American Revolution (1991)

In the United States there is more space where nobody is than where anybody is. This is what makes America what it is.
Gertrude Stein
The Geographical History of America (1936)

America is so vast that almost everything said about it is likely to be true; and the opposite is probably equally true.
James T. Farrell
"Introduction" to
Prejudices: A Selection by H.L. Mencken

To be an American has always meant being able, precisely, to exercise one's right to opt out of the continuum of history, choosing isolation over community, and one's desires over one's obligations. In the grand rhetoric of Emerson, it is to be "a seeker with no past at his back." More prosaically, the notion is embodied in the great American expression "Don't fence me in." Inevitably, this model of utopia depends on solitude and space to spare and is as contemptuous of any particular place as it is of the past. Perhaps that is why Americans have been so oddly complacent about the decay of their older cities. If New York or Philadelphia doesn't "work" anymore, it must be time to move on.
David Rieff
Los Angeles: Capital of the Third World (1991)

The American Dream may have succeeded as a means of survival in the wilderness of early America; it allowed us to subdue that wilderness and build our holy cities of materialism. But now ... we live in a new kind of wilderness, a wasteland wilderness, because those cities and the culture that built them are in decay. We need a new American dream to overcome this wasteland.
Patricia S. Warrick
Mind in Motion (1987)

And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.
John F. Kennedy
Inaugural address (1/20/61)

Now I say to you today my friends, even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: - 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the people's injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.
Martin Luther King
speech at Civil Rights March on Washington (8/28/63)

America is great because she is good and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.
Alexis de Tocqueville (attributed)

An America where people can get rich, but nobody is poor. An America where entrepreneurship is rewarded, but wage work is respected as well. An America that trades fully with the world but empowers its labor force to compete. An America that esteems traditional values but looks with live-and-let-live tolerance upon those with their own codes. An America where choice in the bedroom is paired with choice in schoolroom. An America where the vital idea of communityis adaptive and evolutionary, not static or backward-looking.
James P. Pinkerton
What Comes Next: The End of Big Government and the New Paradigm Ahead (1995)

America has been the world's most successful assimilator of different people. Changing from assimilation to separatism, as seems to be happening now, threatens to fracture the brittle bonds which hold our nation together.
Gregory Benford
"A Scientist's Notebook: America As Rome" in
F&SF magazine (3/96)

It is too simple to say that America is, or ever was, a melting pot. But it is also too simple to say none of it contents ever melted. No single metaphor can do justice to the complexity of cultural crossing and perfusion in America.
Robert Hughes
The Culture of Complaint: The Fraying of America (1993)

There is no room in this country for hyphenated Amercanism ... The one absolutely certain way of bringing this nation to ruin, of preventing all the possibility of its continuing to be a nation at all, would be to permit it to become a tangle of squabbling nationalities.
Theodore Roosevelt
speech before Knights of Columbus NY (10/12/15)

[There is a] broader culture, the one we all share, regardless of our class, race, religion and place of residence. Despite our much-heralded multiculturalism and our supposed delight in difference, we are subjected to the same set of infomercials in our day-to-day lives, the same pop values and icons, the same predigested versions of public events, and thus are a much more homogenized people than we ever have been.
Russell Banks
"A Whole Lot of Poor Judgment"
New York Times Book Review (8/3/97)

Americans have an extraordinary love-hate relationship with the rich culture they've created. They buy, watch and read it even as they ban, block and condemn it.
Jon Katz
Virtuous Reality (1997)

The fundamental temper of America tends towards an existential ideal which can probably never be reached, but can never be discarded: equal rights to variety, to construct your life as you see fit, to choose your traveling companions. This has always been a heterogeneous country, and its cohesion, whatever cohesion it has, can only be based on mutual respect. There never was a core America in which everyone looked the same, spoke the same language, worshiped the same gods and believed the same things. ... America is a construction of mind, not of race or inherited class or ancestral territory.
Robert Hughes
The Culture of Complaint: The Fraying of America (1993)

America is the world's living myth. There's no sense of wrong when you kill an American or blame America for some local disaster. This is our function, our character types, to embody recurring themes that people can use to comfort themselves, justify themselves and so on. We're here to accommodate. Whatever people need we provide. A myth is a useful thing. People expect us to absorb the impact of their grievances.
Don DeLillo
The Names (1982)

I believe that, for the rest of the world, contemporary America is an almost symbolic concentration of all the best and the worst of our civilization. On the one hand, there are its profound commitments to enhancing civil liberty and to maintaining the strength of its democratic institutions, and the fantastic developments in science and technology which have contributed so much to out well-being; on the other, there is the blind worship of perpetual economic growth and consumption, regardless of their destructive impact on the environment, or how subject they are to the dictates of materialism and consumerism, or how they, through the omnipresence of television and advertising, promote uniformity and banality instead of a respect for human uniqueness.
Vaclav Havel
address in Washington, D.C. after receiving
the Fulbright Prize (10/3/97)

[The United States] has always been an oligarchy of money.
Gore Vidal
interviewed by Andrew Solomon
"Gore Vidal Receives A Visitor"
New York Times Magazine (10/15/95)

The moral flabbiness born of the exclusive worship of the bitch-goddess SUCCESS. That -- with the squalid cash interpretation put on the word success -- is our national disease.
William James
letter to H.G. Wells (9/11/06)

The corporate grip on opinion in the United States is one of the wonders of the Western World. No first world country has ever managed to eliminate so entirely from its media all objectivity -- much less dissent.
Gore Vidal
"Cue the Green God, Ted" in
A View from the Diner's Club (1991)

[T]he problem with the corporate control of America is that it is so completely undemocratic. ... Why on earth should Americans be willing to allow the same people who have brought us rampant downsizing, widespread union-busting, wholesale exportation of industrial jobs to sweatshops, and the greatest division between wealth and poverty in the nation's history to increase their presence in our lives? ... Our political system is based on the concept of one person/one vote, but our capitalist economy is strictly and clearly dedicated to the concept of one dollar/one vote. ... To turn over public policy issues to private decision making is not merely a question of efficiency or economics. It is a profound choice about how decisions are made, who makes them, and what kind of society we live in.
Raven B. Earlygrow
letter to the editor
Wired magazine (4/96)

We'll never live in a true democracy until we have an economic democracy.
Michael Moore
Downsize This! (1997)

This is a great country. Know what makes it great? Because you don't have to be witty or smart as long as you can hire someone who is.
The Mary Tyler Moore Show (TV series)
"Murray Ghosts for Ted" (episode #164, 2/14/1977)
written by David Lloyd
directed by Jay Sandrich
spoken by the character "Ted Baxter",
played by Ted Knight

We're three-quarters grizzly bear and two-thirds car wreck and descended from a stock-market crash on our mother's side. You take your Germany, France and Spain, and roll them all together and it wouldn't give us room to park our cars. We're the big boys, Jack, the original giant economy-sized, new and improved butt kickers of all time. When we snort coke in Houston, people lose their hats in Cap d'Antibes.. .we drink napalm to get our hearts started in the morning. A rape and a mugging is our way of saying cheerio. Hell can't hold our sock hops. We walk taller, talk louder, spit farther and buy more things than you know the names of. I'd rather be a junkie in a New York jail than king, queen and jack of all you Europeans. We eat little countries like this for breakfast and shit them out before lunch.
P.J. O'Rourke
Holiday in Hell

The pure products of America go crazy.
William Carlos Williams
"To Elsie" (poem) from
Spring and All (1923)

We Americans are a very strange nation. When you stay a while in Europe, or even in Russia, you can glance back and you can see that there's a strange, scalped quality about the US. There's a creepiness about us, a blankness, a darkness. Behind all the glitzy military-entertainment video product, our satellite rock and roll, our disposable diapers, and our racks of shiny flouride-straightened teeth, there's a gum-popping Whore of America, who can be led to culture but can't be made to think. We're a facile, careless culture, so mired in Babbitesque philistinism that savaging the NEA is our national sport.
Bruce Sterling
"Art and Corruption"
Wired magazine (1/98)

The USA is the world headquarters of moral pretension.
Paul Fussell
BAD or, The Dumbing of America (1991)

In America sex is an obsession, in other parts of the world it is a fact.
Marlene Dietrich (attributed)

[Americans] are a very decent, generous lot of people out here, and they don't expect you to listen. Always remember that... It's the secret of social ease in this country. They talk entirely for their own pleasure. Nothing they say is designed to be heard.
Evelyn Waugh
The Loved One (1948)

The case of America is ... not to be fairly understood without making due allowance for a certain prevalent imbalance and derangement of mentality. ... Perhaps the commonest and plainest evidence of this unbalanced mentality is to be seen in a certain fearsome and feverish credulity with which a large proportion of the Americans are affected.
Thorstein Veblen
“Dementia Praecox” in
The Freeman (6/21/1922)

America is the only nation in history which, miraculously, has gone directly from barbarism to degeneracy without the usual interval of civilization.
Georges Clemenceau
quoted in Saturday Review of Literature (12/1/45)

America is the only country to pass from childhood to senility without ever becoming adult.
Winston Churchill (attributed)

The youth of America is their oldest tradition. It has been going on now for three hundred years.
Oscar Wilde
A Woman of No Importance (play) (1893)

[I]t is worth remembering that although we tend to think of America as perpetually new, the fall of despotisms leave its form of government older and more continuous that any in Europe, older than the French revolution...
Robert Hughes
The Culture of Complaint: The Fraying of America (1993)

[In Achieving Our Country, Richard] Rorty thinks that national pride is the political equivalent of individual self-respect. Without it, nothing can be achieved. The obvious corruption of national pride occurs when it turns into national self-aggrandizement or into a brutal enthusiasm for simple military might. A proper love of country is entirely consistent with wanting a more effective United Nations to preserve world peace, and with regarding the Vietnam War as an unmitigated disaster -- and Rorty is indeed an internationalist who regards the Vietnam War as an unmitigated disaster. It is also consistent with being entirely unforgiving about the atrocities that besmirch the history of the United States, as they do the history of every country. The conservative wish to take our eyes off our country's shortcomings is not one that Rorty shares.
Alan Ryan
"The New New Left"
New York Times Book Review (5/17/98)
citing Richard Rorty
Achieving Our Country (1998)

If the American Revolution had produced nothing but the Declaration of Independence, it would have been worthwhile.
Samuel Eliot Morison
The Oxford History of the American People (1965)

If there is any principle of the Constitution that more imperatively calls for attachment than any other, it is the principle of free thought -- not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the though tthat we hate.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.
United States v. Schwimmer (1928)

Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among people, who have a right ... and a desire to know; but besides this they have a right, an indisputable, unalienable, indefeasible, divine right to that most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge, I mean of the characters and conduct of their rulers.
John Adams
"A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law" (1765)

One of our defects as a nation is a tendency to use what have been called 'weasel words'. When a weasel sucks eggs the meat is sucked out of the egg. If you use a 'weasel word' after another there is nothing left of the other.
Theodore Roosevelt
speech at St. Louis (5/31/16)

America is a country where they have freedom of speech but everyone says the same thing.
Alexis de Tocqueville
Democracy in America (1835)

In America, through pressure of conformity, there is freedom of choice, but nothing to choose from.
Peter Ustinov (attributed)

The idea that men are created free and equal is both true and misleading: men are created different; they lose their social freedom and their individual autonomy in seeking to become like each other.
David Riesman
The Lonely Crowd (1950)

[O]f course the United States is special. So is France. So is India. So is Norway. All countries are, in their various ways, special. All are, as Ranke would put it, "immediate to God." But when their inhabitants start boasting about being "special," it is time to be disturbed, because it usually indicates a profound contempt for other peoples who are not so special.
Paul Kennedy
reply to Norman Podhertz (c. 2/26/88)

There is a sense in which all Americans are liberals, not excluding the neocons who use that word as a curse, but this is not the usual journalistic sense of the word. That's to say, Americans believe instinctively in a pluralistic, individualistic, open society. ... American culture has always stressed individual fulfillment over duty owed to the state; the nation's very founding creed was "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
Geoffrey Wheatcroft
"The Big Kibbutz" in
New York Times Books Review (3/2/97)

Americans have always been besotted with the power of the individual.
Caroline Fraser
"Mrs. Eddy Builds Her Empire" in
New York Review of Books (7/11/96)

I believe that we are lost here in America, but I believe that we shall be found.
Thomas Wolfe
You Can't Go Home Again (1940)

[Originally collected by me and posted to a private e-mail group on July 3, 2000]

Ed Fitzgerald | 7/03/2006 12:17:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Sunday, July 02, 2006

The real war

Columnist Marie Jon' says that "America is in the midst of a culture war between Christians and secularists," but Brad R. of Sadly, No! sees it right:
Not true. Most Christians I know aren’t so insecure in their faith that they need to impose it on others’ children. What we’re really in a the midst of is a war between idiots and everybody else.

The lure of martyrdom, real or symbolic, is clearly very powerful to some people.

[via The Green Knight]

Ed Fitzgerald | 7/02/2006 03:33:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Down the years (2)...

Five years ago, I posted this to an e-mail discussion group:
Hey, everybody, can we stop for a moment and take a good look around us, please?

We've got an overgrown frat boy who can't frame the simplest coherent thought as unelected President, shoehorned into office by a cabal of right-wing Supreme Court Justices who don't even have the courage of their previously stated convictions. We've got one house of Congress dominated by a political party controlled by people whose ideas would make a Neanderthal blush with shame, and the other run (just barely) by the other party, which is so frightened of offending the vast know nothing public that they won't support any idea or program, however true and necessary to the national well-being, that even hints of being in the great liberal or progressive traditions. We've got a Federal judiciary dominated by knee-jerk conservatives, the probablity of a couple of Supreme Court Justices retiring soon -- to be replaced by "strict constructionists" hell-bent on disassembling the entire basic structure of this country -- and a President who isn't sure if evolution is a fact. We've got a selection of entertainment choices that is in some ways almost infinite, but which is controlled by four or five gigantic corporations, and, what's worse, the same goliaths control most of our news and information. We've got more people in prison than any other country in the world, and more and more of them being put to death for their crimes all the time. We've got the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer and the middle class consuming more and more non-renewable resources.

In a word, we've got trouble, dude, right here in River City, daddy, with one great big capital motherfucking "T", man.

[July 6, 2001]

Most of it still true, some of it even truer now.

Ed Fitzgerald | 7/02/2006 02:41:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Down the years...

Ten years ago, I was reading:

Clifford Stoll - Silicon Snake Oil
Clifford Stoll
Silicon Snake Oil (1995)
Online debates of tough issues are often polarized by messages taking extreme positions. It's a great medium for trivia and hobbies, but not the place for reasoned, reflective judgment. Surprisingly often, discussion degenerate into acrimony, insults and flames.

... Virtually everything is debated on the Usenet: whether computers are best left on at night, if cats can be fed a vegetarian diet, of abortion should be legal.

Predictable replies - maybe, maybe, and maybe, but each with more stridency. Plenty of opinions, but not much informed dialogue, and even less consensus.

Of course, since there are no easy answers, arguments over the Usenet are seldom resolved. They'll degenerate into name-calling; eventually one of the participants figuratively walks away, and a new debate begins.

Now, recurrent debates aren't bad - they're just circular and tedious.


Network junkies excitedly tell me that self-publishing leapfrogs over publishers, editors and broadcasters. The network passes messages from your keyboard to a thousand other monitors. It's not one-to-one communication like the telephone or one-to-many broadcasting like radio. Rather it's a many-to-many medium, a garden where freedom of speech blooms.

But the reality is that with millions of users posting messages to the network, the valuable gets lost in the dross. There are no pointers to the good stuff - you don't know which messages are worth reading. You can select by subject area, but there's no way to pick only the interesting comments.

With everyone able to upload their work to the network, the Internet begins to resemble publishers' slush piles. It's up to the reader to separate out the dregs. What's missing from the network are genuine editors.

Ah, editors! The bane of writers, reporters, and publishers, editors yet serve as a barometer of literary quality and advocates for the reader. Without them on the net, you simply have no way of telling what's worth reading.

By eliminating editors, our networks demonstrate their importance. There are plenty of writers on the Usenet, but few editors. It shows.

Indeed the best newsgroups rely on voluntary moderators, serving as unpaid filters. ... Their attempts to impose order on the chaos generate resentment, accusations of censorship, and occasional subversion; but it's the moderators who give shape and direction to the newsgroups. There are so few moderated newsgroups only because nobody's willing to put in the long, unpaid hours.


Since there's no identification required on the Internet, you can be as anonymous as you wish. You can change your name and identity as you please, and you location may be little more than a node.

You can invent a more confident persona, freed from shyness and physical limitations. A housewife in Boise, Idaho, gives herself the name Amazon Gal; a New York City teenager becomes Ranchhand. AT this masquerade party, you truly don't know who you're associating with.

...As my computer screen scrolls before me, I see each person with the same font, style, and packaging. In person, we'd sense a difference in clothing, facial expression, accent, and sex. All these disappear online.

...Tailoring a persona is an experience of otherness, a way to escape the here and now.


In some ways, the Internet reminds me of talk radio - the land where anyone can have his say. A forum for both fringe and trivial? A place where there's plenty of talkers and few listeners?

Uh-oh ... there's a closer analogue. It reminds me of CB radio.


[I]solated facts don't make an education. Meaning doesn't come from data alone. Creative problem solving depends on context, interrelationships, and experience. The surrounding matrix may be more important than the individual lumps of information. And only human beings can teach the connections between things.


A little icon blinks whenever a message arrives at my computer. ... This gives electronic mail a powerful sense of immediacy. ... "Open me now," the message tells us. ... The Internet propagates a sense of urgency. Writers once gave me a week to answer a letter. Today, if I don't reply within a couple of days, they'll ping me again.

My natural reaction? Type out an answer and ship it across the ether. Yet after I hit enter, I don't get another crack. I'm sending out my first draft. Unpolished, unedited. ...

E-mail ... discourages reflection. While logged on, it's difficult to compose a message and then push it aside for review ... it's too easy to press the send button. As a result, many letters are sent without thinking about their consequences.


In 1979, as NASA's Pioneer spacecraft flew by Saturn, I helped record the down-linked data onto magnetic tape. To make certain that we didn't lose any of this priceless data, we saved it in four formats: 9-track magnetic tape, 7-track tape, paper tape, and punch cards. That's a lot of boxes and cards...

Fifteen years later, all those cards ... [are] in fine shape, but I can't read 'em. Punch-card and paper-tape readers just don't exists anymore. Nor do those big reel-to-reel tape recorders. ...

Think of the many extinct formats: 78-rpm records; 2-inch quad-scan videotape, phonograph cylinders; paper tape; 80-column punch cards; 100-column punch-cards; 7-track digital tape; reel-to-reel audio tape; 8-track tapes; DECTape; 8-millimeter movies; 5-inch glass lantern slides.

Then think of the formats that are disappearing today: 45- and 33-rpm vinyl records; 5 1/4-inch floppy disks; Betamax tapes; single-side, single-density diskettes; EBCDIC coding.

... Today's information isn't just magnetic domains on ferric oxide or simple bumps on a glimmering plastic disk. The format of the data is essential...


Not all information is good information. We're already getting so much information, so fast, that it's more than our brains can process, digest and evaluate.
Charles Osgood
[quoted by Stoll]

Other reading at this time: Zodiac and The Big U two early novels by Neal Stephenson, Stephen Jay Gould's The Mismeasure of Man (a re-read for the revised and expanded edition), and Gather Yourselves Together, my second try to read a terrible straight (non-sf) novel by Philip K. Dick.

Ed Fitzgerald | 7/02/2006 02:01:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Aggressive religionism

If true, here's another example of why we need rigorously enforced separation of church and state:
A large Delaware school district promoted Christianity so aggressively that a Jewish family felt it necessary to move to Wilmington, two hours away, because they feared retaliation for filing a lawsuit. The religion (if any) of a second family in the lawsuit is not known, because they're suing as Jane and John Doe; they also fear retaliation. Both families are asking relief from "state-sponsored religion."

The behavior of the Indian River School District board's behavior suggests the families' fears are hardly groundless.

The district spreads over a considerable portion of southeast Delaware. The families' complaint, filed in federal court in February 2005, alleges that the district had created an "environment of religious exclusion" and unconstitutional state-sponsored religion.

Among numerous specific examples in the complaint was what happened at plaintiff Samantha Dobrich's graduation in 2004 from the district's high school. She was the only Jewish student in her graduating class. The complaint relates that local pastor, Jerry Fike, in his invocation, followed requests for "our heavenly Father's" guidance for the graduates with:

I also pray for one specific student, that You be with her and guide her in the path that You have for her. And we ask all these things in Jesus' name.
In addition to the ruined graduation experience, the Dobrich-Doe lawsuit alleges that:
  • The district's "custom and practice of school-sponsored prayer" frequently imposed ... on impressionable non-Christian students," violating their constitutional rights.

  • The district ignored the Supreme Court's 1992 Lee decision limiting prayer at graduation ceremonies -- even after a district employee complained about the prayer at her child's 2003 graduation..

  • District teachers and staff led Bible clubs at several schools. Club members got to go to the head of the lunch line.

  • While Bible clubs were widely available, student book clubs were rare and often canceled by the district.

  • When Jane Doe complained that her non-Christian son "Jordan Doe" was left alone when his classmates when to Bible club meetings, district staff insisted that Jordan should attend the club regardless of his religion.

  • The district schools attended by Jordan and his sister "Jamie Doe" distributed Bibles to students in 2003, giving them time off from class to pick up the books.
    Prayer --often sectarian -- is a routine part of district sports programs and social events

  • One of the district's middle schools gave students the choice of attending a special Bible Club if they did not want to attend the lesson on evolution.

  • A middle school teacher told students there was only "one true religion" and gave them pamphlets for his surfing ministry.

  • Samantha Dobrich's honors English teacher frequently discussed Christianity, but no other religion.

  • Students frequently made mandatory appearances at district board meetings -- where they were a captive audience for board members' prayers to Jesus.

In a statement issued through her attorneys and quoted by the Delaware Wave, plaintiff Mona Dobrich, the mother of district students -- and plaintiffs -- Samantha and Alexander, said: "We are not trying to remove God from the schools or the public square. We simply don't think it is right for the district to impose a particular religious view on impressionable students."

[via Ed Brayton]

Ed Fitzgerald | 7/02/2006 01:45:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Ed Fitzgerald

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unfutz: toiling in almost complete obscurity for almost 1500 days
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(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.

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