Saturday, December 23, 2006

(3089/898) Culture

VICTOR: Maybe I'm going home.
COLETTE: Don't go home. What's home like?
VICTOR: Well everything's filthy. Maybe I won't go home.
John Patrick Shanley
Four Dogs and A Bone (play, 1993)

378) BRADLEY: You're inexperienced. You're from the theatre. That's like the Outback of entertainment.
John Patrick Shanley
Four Dogs and A Bone (play, 1993)

379) Commit a random act of kindness.
Saying (c. 1994)

380) For me the intentions of background music are openly political, and an example of how political power is constantly shifting from the ballot box into areas where the voter has nowhere to mark his ballot paper. The most important political choices in the future will probably never be consciously exercised. I'm intrigued by the way some background music is surprisingly aggressive, especially that played on consumer complaint phone lines and banks, airplanes and phone companies themselves, with strident non-rhythmic and arms-length sequences that are definitely not user-friendly.
J.G. Ballard
quoted by Joseph Lanza in
Elevator Music (1994)

381) The pure products of America go crazy.
William Carlos Williams
"To Elsie" (poem, 1923)
quoted by Greil Marcus in
Dead Elvis (1991)

382) Culture - as an official sound-and-light show of fear and reassurance, fortune and impoverishment, just-folks mass murderers and happy families - has today so completely replaced government that there are no politics, and culture itself has lost its borders and its domains.
Greil Marcus
Dead Elvis (1991)

383) There are [...] some critics who say that commercials are a new albeit degraded means of religious expression in that most of them take the forms of parables, teaching people what the good life consists of. It is a claim not to be easily dismissed. [...] [T]he average American TV viewer will see about thirty thousand commercials next year. Some of them are quite straightforward and some are funny, some are spoofs of other commercials and some are mysterious and exotic. But many of them [...] will urge the following ideas: Whatever problem you face (lack of self-esteem, lack of good taste, lack of attractiveness, lack of social acceptance), it can be solved, solved fast, and solved through a drug, a detergent, a machine, or a salable technique. You are, in fact, helpless unless you know about the product that can remake you and set you on the road to paradise. You must, in short, become a born-again consumer, redeem yourself, and find peace. [...] Like biblical parables, commercial messages invade our consciousness, seep into our souls. Even if you are half-awake when commercials run, thirty thousand of them will begin to penetrate your indifference. In the end, it is hard not to believe.
Neil Postman & Steve Powers
How To Watch TV News (1992)

The play seems out for an almost infinite run
Don't mind a little thing like the actors fighting
The only thing I worry about is the sun
We'll be all right if nothing goes wrong with the lighting.
Robert Frost
"It Bids Pretty Fair" (poem, 1916)
from Complete Poems of Robert Frost

Note: "3089/898" is the designation I've given to the project of posting all my collected quotes, excerpts and ideas (3089 of them) in the remaining days of the Bush administration (of which there were 898 left when I began).

As of today, there are 759 days remaining in the administration of the worst American President ever.

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/23/2006 11:19:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


WWB (Why we blog)

On Secular Blasephemy, Jan Haugland's got a blogging philosophy that mirrors my own ideal:
In the end it comes down to writing what I like to read about myself, and hope there are like-minded people out there. I still remember the childish joy the first time I had 100 unique readers in a whole day. Yay! I was famous!

I write about subjects that interest me, about topics that catch my eye, and try not to worry too much about the numbers. That can be hard, since it's always nicer to feel appreciated than to feel ignored.

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/23/2006 11:11:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Whose Congress was dysfunctional?

Roger Keeling riffs off my last post, which urged that we give the Democrats a chance to actually govern before we start to slam them:
Did you happen to see the "liberal" New York Times' editorial page this morning? See the op-ed from one Scot M. Faulkner?

Faulkner was the chief administrative officer of the House of Representatives from 1995 to 1997, according to the Times. Hmm ... that would mean he was the guy the Republicans put in charge of things around then. No?

And how does he start his column? Why, he says this in the second paragraph:

"... if the new Democratic majority functions anything like the old one, they — and we — are in for trouble. The Democrats’ previous administration of Congress was amazingly dysfunctional — an operation that allowed the least ethically inclined members to rob the place blind, as both the House Bank and Post Office scandals confirmed."

Faulkner then describes a system with little financial accountability, one in which Members of Congress could get everything from hair styling to printing done essentially for free, and without anything like proper financial controls to see what it was costing taxpayers.

Let's concede all of that, every word. Let's say that back then, there had been a monumental failure to install proper internal financial controls, and so "the least ethical" of Congressmen could get away with a lot of sleazy things.

The entire budget for Congress was something like $1 billion annually. A big number, and perhaps one larded with waste. Concede it all.

But was Congress really "amazingly dysfunctional?" More dysfunctional than, say, a Congress that was completely sold out to K Street? More dysfunctional than the INCREDIBLE fraud and corruption we've seen from the Republicans, from guys like DeLay, Ney, and all the rest? Really?

By what measure?

It sure couldn't be in terms of absolute dollars, because getting a free haircut every week just doesn't compare to the wheelbarrows of money that DeLay was pushing around.

Adjusted for inflation, perhaps? No, even if you devalued more recent corruption to equal 1994 dollars, I'll bet all the fraud in the House -- combined -- wouldn't add up to squat.

In fact, I well remember the House banking and post office scandals. The "banking" scandal was, in truth, close to nothing at all: a cudgel used by Newt Gingrich -- a clinical narcissistic sociopath, in my view -- to bash on Democrats, but actually no respectable scandal at all. It was THEIR money they were playing with (direct deposits of Congressional salaries), and the actual "malfeasance" was trivial ... nothing more than free floats on cash advances, as I recall, always covered by the deposits of OTHER Congress critters. The post office scandal had a more bite, as I recall, but nonetheless was also ultimately trivial in absolute dollar terms.

But, then, over-stating Democratic splinters while ignoring their own timbers is an old and honored GOP tendency. Witness how Gingrich hounded Wilbur Wright out of the Speaker's position over a (tiny) sale of books to lobbyists ... then turned around with a multi-million dollar contract for his own books that was pure bribery.

If this guy Faulkner had focused his writing more specifically on the actual frauds that occurred ... if he'd declared that any fraud is too much fraud, and that the Democrats should really strive to keep it clean ... if he emphasized nothing more than just good, basic accountant practices ... why, I'd take him quite seriously. But he starts with broad-brush accusations against the Democrats of that day, not exactly saying that they were "every bit as corrupt as today's Republicans," but implying it strongly. His evidence: their accounting systems were woefully out of date (handwritten ledgers: the horror, the horror!!!!), warehouses full of office furnishings not properly inventoried (but, gee, not stolen either. Is that corruption or a failure to have good accountants on staff?), and -- of course -- the unsupported assertion that the House banking scandal "proves" they were all corrupt.

Now, again, I don't actually object to what this man is arguing for. He cites -- correctly -- the benefits that came when proper financial controls were introduced. He says that the GOP eventually moved away from the goal of true transparency, however, and that this would be a good thing for the Democrats to resume. Agreed! And I absolutely agree with him that if the Democrats are wise enough to implement these kinds of reforms, and stick with them, their ability to retain office (and, perhaps, full control of Congress) will be significantly enhanced. It could conceivably buy many more years of real control of Congress.

But why did the Times think it okay to allow this guy to over-state the corruption of the Democrats in power prior to Newt Gingrich? Because that is EXACTLY what he does. It's infuriating and, interestingly, might just ultimately undermine his stated goals a bit. I'd like to think that were I in Congress, I'd be willing to listen to this advice even if it came replete with gross misrepresentations about what my Party used to do. But I can also imagine a lot of Democrats just tuning it out entirely after the first couple of paragraphs.

P.S. -- Before posting, I realized I need to give an example of how Faulkner should have written this. Without asserting anything about the pre-Gingrich leadership, he should have said that in the period 1995-97, a bi-partisan effort (spurred by the claims of corruption against the Democrats) was launched to modernize House financial operations. THEN he could have said, "Those operations had grown steadily more dysfunctional over the decades, and by the time I arrived the entire edifice was obsolete and crumbling" THEN he could have cited all his examples, and pointed out that in such an environment any Congressman inclined to corruption found it easy to be corrupt. (Notice how we never hear about all the sleazy benefits the REPUBLICANS were helping themselves to back then? But, of course, they were. The rules didn't just apply to Democrats).

The scale and scope -- and institutionalization -- of corruption in the recent Republican Congresses goes well beyond anything that existed in any previous Congress in my political memory. Whether they will be judged to be among the most corrupt ever is for future historians to determine, but they were certainly extremely bad, and any attempt, such as Faulkner's, to imply an equivalence with the Democratic Congresses of the recent past is just ludicrous -- especially when you consider the ideological blinkers the Republicans operated with and the absurdities their ideology foisted on us.

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/23/2006 06:08:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Hey! Guys!

Ya think it might be a good idea to wait until the Democrats actually take power in Congress and have an opportunity to do something before you start complaining about how they're going about doing it?

I mean, you're bitching that the living room lacks feng shui and all the Dems have done so far is to pack up the furniture and put it on the moving van!

If they screw up, there'll be plenty of time to criticize them, but, for crying out loud, what's the point of helping the Republicans and the media to run them down when they haven't even had a chance yet?

I'm not of the opinion that electing Democrats to Congress is going to make all the bad things in the world go bye-bye (what idiot would think that? -- no one, but a strutting pundit needs a straw man to show off his progressive cred, I guess), I'm of the opinion that this country and the world is going to be a hell of lot better off having Democrats in control of Congress then it would be if the Republicans still ran things there, and that's enough for me, at the moment.

All the stuff that's broken, it doesn't get fixed quickly, it's a long-term job, and this election was just the first step in that direction. Let's give these folks a chance to get moving before we kneecap them, huh? Have just a bit of patience, please, it's only been about seven weeks since the election, the Democrats haven't even taken office yet, and decades of wacked-out governance doesn't get undone overnight with the wave of a magic wand.

We're not in some damned movie where the music suddenly changes from ominous and foreboding into a glorious major-key strut and suddenly everything is okay. Most of the stuff that sucks is going to continue to suck for some time to come, so stop looking for a quick fix.

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/23/2006 06:34:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Friday, December 22, 2006

A Techno Squirrel Story

This is just hilarious, especially the stuff about squirrels and pigeons. (Read the entire e-mail correspondance for the good stuff.) After he was publicly busted, the guy (a Congressman's press aide -- Republican, of course) got fired -- for soliciting a hacker to escalate his college GPA. (Or, actually, given Republican ethics, he get fired not for what he did, but for doing it so badly and getting caught.)

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/22/2006 05:59:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE



In a spam control measure, I'm temporarily shutting down the address I normally have posted here for correspondance connected with unfutz -- until some time in January, probably.

For those who have communicated with me before, the e-mail address I used for my response will still be open, as will my other usual e-mail addresses. Anyone else who desperately needs to contact me can leave a comment here.

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/22/2006 03:38:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Friday Photography: Olive Trees

click to enlarge
Daryl Samuel (1993)

Location: Paros, Cyclades Islands, Greece

Previous: Hands With Softball / On Alcatraz / Cameras / Lighthouse / Photographer At Work / Patio Chairs / Greek Church / Santa Fe Mailboxes / Rocking Horse / Sunset Sandpiper / Hands / Bird of Paradise / Feeding the Pelican / Sunset Silhouette / Staircase / Mallards / Masts / Greek Column / Paddlewheel

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/22/2006 02:11:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


(3089/898) Minksy speaks

368) The surer you are that you like what you're doing, the more completely your other ambitions are being suppressed.
Marvin Minsky
The Society of Mind (1986)

369) [B]e particularly wary of methods [of problem solving] you can always use:
  • Quit what you're doing.
  • Find an easier problem.
  • Take a rest. You'll feel better afterward.
  • Simply wait. Eventually the situation will change.
  • Start over again. Things may work out better the next time.

Such methods are too general; they're the thing s that one can always do, but they do not apply especially well to any particular problem. Sometimes they can help us get unstuck, but they must be barred from usual thought - or at least be given low priority. It isn't any accident that the things that we can "always" do are just the ones we should rarely do.

Marvin Minsky
The Society of Mind (1986)

370) When a dog runs, it moves its legs. When a sea urchin runs, it is moved by its legs.
Jakob von Uexkull
quoted by Marvin Minsky in
The Society of Mind (1986)

371) Given a community that is already functioning, it is always dangerous to make more than a few changes at once. Each change is prone to have some harmful side effects on other systems that depend on it. Some of these side effects may not become apparent until so many of them have accumulated that the system has deteriorated past any point of turning back. Accordingly, it is better stop from time to time to make inspections and repairs. The same is true for learning any complex skill; unless your goal is unchanged for long enough, you won't have time enough to learn the skills required to accomplish it.
Marvin Minsky
The Society of Mind (1986)

372) That theory is worthless. It isn't even wrong!
Wolfgang Pauli
quoted by Marvin Minsky in
The Society of Mind (1986)

373) Grammar is the servant of language, not the master.
Marvin Minsky
The Society of Mind (1986)

374) Never speak more clearly than you think.
Jeremy Bernstein
quoted by Marvin Minsky in
The Society of Mind (1986)

375) INTELLIGENCE. A term frequently used to express the myth that some single entity or element is responsible for the quality of a person's ability to reason. I prefer to think of this word as representing not any particular power or phenomenon, but simply all the mental skills that, at any particular moment, we admire but don't understand.
Marvin Minsky
The Society of Mind (1986)

376) INTUITION. The myth that the mind possesses some immediate (and hence inexplicable) abilities to solve problems or perceive truths. This belief is based on naive views of how we get ideas. For example, we often experience a moment of excitement or exhilaration at the moment of completing a complex and prolonged but nonconscious analysis of a problem. The myth of intuition wrongly attributes the solution to what happened in that final moment. As for being able directly to apprehend what is true, we simply forget how frequently our "intuitions" turn out to be wrong.
Marvin Minsky
The Society of Mind (1986)

Note: "3089/898" is the designation I've given to the project of posting all my collected quotes, excerpts and ideas (3089 of them) in the remaining days of the Bush administration (of which there were 898 left when I began).

As of today, there are 760 days remaining in the administration of the worst American President ever.

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/22/2006 02:03:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Digby passes the hat

Digby is a valued resource, one of the best bloggers around, well worth supporting.

Addendum: Digby is also one of those bloggers whom I would very much like to meet someday. (I'd also put Billmon, Kevin Drum and Chris Bowers in that category, with a few others -- the small number being a function not of the dearth of interesting bloggers, but of my own natural inclination to reclusion.)

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/21/2006 04:53:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Florida update

CQPolitics reports:
After weeks of focusing her challenge to the close election results in Florida’s 13th Congressional District on that state’s elections bureaucracy and court system, Democratic nominee Christine Jennings moved Wednesday to get Congress officially involved in her vote-counting dispute with the state-certified winner, Republican Vern Buchanan.

Jennings, a former banker, filed paperwork with the House clerk to officially contest the race in Florida’s 13th District, alleging widespread voting machine irregularities. [The Bradenton Herald] The filing came not long before a deadline of 6 p.m. Wednesday, the conclusion of the 30-day period since the results were certified by the office of Florida’s secretary of state.

The matter will be referred to the House Administration Committee, which will decide whether to proceed with an investigation of a complaint that includes requests by Jennings for the Nov. 7 results to be vacated and for the election to be held over again.

And because the Republican-controlled 109th Congress has already completed its work, the committee will have a new Democratic majority after the 110th Congress is installed Jan. 4. The Florida 13 contest is the only House race still in dispute in an election campaign that delivered the Democrats a 30-seat gain and a total of 233 seats, 15 more than they needed for a bare majority in the 435-seat House.

While Jennings’ complaint now officially rests in the hands of the House committee, the conflict over the election’s outcome creates an even more pressing situation for incoming Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and other House Democratic leaders: whether to seat Buchanan as the certified winner in Florida 13.

The House will be forced to make this choice if a single member challenges Buchanan’s right to the seat. The members would then have to choose between seating Buchanan unconditionally, seating Buchanan conditionally “pending the outcome of an investigation” or leaving the seat vacant pending resolution of the dispute, according to a Congressional Research Service report.

A House resolution not to seat Buchanan would be put to a vote before the Democratic-controlled chamber.
The prima facie case for problems with the electronic voting machines seems so clear, and the intransigence of the Florida voting officials so telling, that leaving the seat vacant seems the only reasonable response.

If Buchanan is seated, even on a temporary basis, Florida will drag its feet about resolving the dispute either in the courts or via a new election, since psychologically it will seem that they already "possess" the seat and need only hang on until Buchanan is recognized de facto as the winner. On the other hand, if the seat is left vacant, there may be some negative feedback to the move, but the people of the district will nevertheless clamor for a resolution, putting pressure on Florida to set a new election.

Perhaps I'm missing something (not unlikely, I suppose, give the sometimes byzantine nature of political machinations), but it doesn't appear to be too difficult a choice for Pelosi and the Democratic House leadership.

Update: That Bradenton Herald article says:
The House also plans to swear in Buchanan because of precedent set in previous contested elections, but he might be seated provisionally pending the investigation's outcome, committee spokeswoman Salley Collins said.

"Salley Collins" appears to be the current Press Secretary representing the outgoing Republican-controlled (6 to 3) House Administration Committee. Whether she is a permanent employee who will also represent the incoming Democratic-controlled committee seems unlikely to me, but what do I know?

Update: More from TPM Muckraker.

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/21/2006 01:26:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


I have to say that I very much enjoyed this thread over on TPM Election Central. It contains numerous reasons why Rudy Giuliani is delusional if he thinks he's ever going to be the Republican candidate for President.

Remember that old Lily Tomlin joke (in pre-cell phone days) about feeling sorry for crazy people who wander the streets of big cities talking to themselves, and wanting to pair them up so they would at least look like they were having a conversation? I think we should do something like that for Joe Biden and Rudy Giuliani, so they could keep each other company in their delusional states.

Two Wild and CrazyGuys
Two Wild and Crazy Guys

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/20/2006 08:41:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Sticker no more

School board abandons evolution sticker case

ATLANTA, Georgia (AP) -- A suburban school board that put stickers in high school science books saying evolution is "a theory, not a fact" abandoned its legal battle to keep them Tuesday after four years.

The Cobb County board agreed in federal court never to use a similar sticker or to undermine the teaching of evolution in science classes.

In return, the parents who sued over the stickers agreed to drop all legal action.

"We certainly think that it's a win not just for our clients but for all students in Cobb County and, really, all residents of Georgia," said Beth Littrell of the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia.

The school board placed the stickers inside the front cover of biology books in 2002 after a group of parents complained that evolution was being taught to the exclusion of other theories, including a literal reading of the biblical story of creation.
Huzzah, another victory for science, rationality and freedom of (and from) religion. If the Republican Party really is in a decline, or at least in retreat (see below) then we should see more of these kinds of victories in the coming years, because of the extent that it has become the umbrella for anti-rationalist activism.

[Thanks to Shirley]

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/20/2006 03:33:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE



The world will soon forget all about that woman who tried to publish O.J. Simpson's non-mea culpa when I reveal the truth about the secret blogger cabal that's keeping unfutz down -- and don't you go thinking that it's got anything to do with those rumors about my supposed lack of talent, ideas and writing ability -- no, this is the real thing!!!!


Ed Fitzgerald | 12/20/2006 04:48:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


(3089/898) Some rules and definitions

363) I don't want a lawyer to tell me what I cannot do; I hire him to tell me how to do what I want to do.
J. Pierpont Morgan
quoted by Harold L. Klawans in
Trials of An Expert Witness (1991)

364) There is one reliable way to differentiate dentists from physicians. The first time a dentist looks in your mouth, he shakes his head and tells you that all your dental work for which you spent so much money is of substandard quality and has to be replaced. Your previous dentist was, in short, incompetent. A new doctor takes your history, examines you, and no matter what he finds, smiles and tells you that your old doctor did everything just right. Perhaps not the way he would have done it, but don't worry, your previous doctor was an excellent physician.
"Richardson's Law"
quoted by Harold L. Klawans in
Trials of An Expert Witness (1991)

365) BAMBIFICATION: The mental conversion of flesh and blood living creatures into cartoon characters possessing bourgeois Judeo-Christian attitudes and morals.
Douglas Coupland
Generation X: Tales For An Accelerated Culture (1991)

366) LESSNESS: A philosophy whereby one reconciles oneself with diminishing expectations of material wealth: "I've given up wanting to make a killing or be a bigshot. I just want to find happiness and maybe open up a little roadside cafe in Idaho."
Douglas Coupland
Generation X: Tales For An Accelerated Culture (1991)

367) MUSICAL HAIRSPLITTING: The act of classifying music and musicians into pathologically picayune categories: "The Vienna Franks are a good example of urban white acid folk revivalism crossed with ska."
Douglas Coupland
Generation X: Tales For An Accelerated Culture (1991)

Note: "3089/898" is the designation I've given to the project of posting all my collected quotes, excerpts and ideas (3089 of them) in the remaining days of the Bush administration (of which there were 898 left when I began).

As of today, there are 762 days remaining in the administration of the worst American President ever.

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/20/2006 03:50:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Steps forward, but more to go

Atrios has a very good post about the Permanent Overclass in D.C.
There's a permanent class in Washington, various orbits of power centers, who really believe they run the town and by extension the country. Politicians come and go, but the permanent ruling class is always there. Its members shift a bit over time, and there are those higher up in the perceived power structure than others, but the class remains. It's what Broder meant when he said [...] of Clinton, "it's not his place." They set the rules, define the parameters of debate and acceptable conduct, and every now and then step in and Make a Decision which they assume Will Be Listened To. Once the Wise Old Men finally got around to realizing that Iraq was a disaster, they assumed They Would Be Heeded, especially if they did it in a nice way which didn't blame anybody for anything and let Bush off the hook.

This is the true High Broderism - not just a belief in the ultimate rightness of the club of bipartisan technocrats, pundits, and other elites, but a belief in their actual power.

The Permanent Continuing Punditocracy of D.C. is only a part of our problem, of course, although it's a significant one, since their power outlets include the Sunday chat shows ("Sabbath gasbags"), the real hurdles that all serious candidates and politicians have to clear in order to succeed. (Primaries and elections are only of secondary importance in this view of power, a view that is therefore threatened by any movement or change which serves to make democracy more democratic and less aristocratic -- movement such as the participatory activism of the blogosphere.)

But in addition to resistance from the royalty of the political media that Atrios refers to, there is also a more generalized resistance from the media collectively. Today, Kevin Drum had a post about the Hacker-Pierson Off Center thesis, that the Republicans were getting away with their move to the right through their strict institutional control structure which served to mask and hide the shift. The question is, if the Republicans had this great system as a basis of their power, which was posited to be quasi-permanent, why did things fall apart in this last election? The answer from Hacker and Pierson is "Iraq" and Drum, rightfully, finds that a bit wanting.

Drum does agree, though (more or less) with the idea that it's going to be a lot harder for the GOP to get away with their bullshit as a result of the Democrats' return to power in Congress. I think that rather overstates the case -- consider:

  • While the Democrats' majority in the House is a healthy one, slightly larger than the one the Republicans most recently had, their hold on the Senate is tenuous, as we were all reminded with Senator Johnson's emergency brain surgery. The death or retirement or tempting away or defection of a single Senator from the wrong state (one with a Republican governor) can throw everything into doubt.

  • Not only that, but Democratic party discipline is generally not as strict as Republican disclipline, and will certainly not be as tight as the extremely strict discipline of the most recent Republican Congresses. Consequently, we shouldn't expect the Democratic-controlled House to be as unerring a mill for progressive legislation as the Republican one was for regressive, authoritarian and corrupt legislation.

  • There's also the matter of the Supreme Court and the Federal judiciary in general, which has been salted with right-wing Republicans, Federalist Society members and other conservatives for years now. It's not too much to say that the movement (as opposed to the Republican party per se) controls the Federal judiciary, and will for the foreseeable future. This of course means that the guts of any progressive legislation can potentially be scooped out by activist right-wing judges and justices. (Though it's true that even judges are effected by changes in the political weather, which means that the continued strength of the Democratic party and the progressive movement may inhibit a certain amount of Federalist mischief.)

  • Finally, and the reason I mention all of this here, there's the media. As I wrote in a comment over on Political Animal:
    As several others have commented or alluded to, one thing which *hasn't* changes as a result of the 2006 election is the media. For reasons that are difficult to pinpoint, but seems to have to do with the conservative ownership of much of the media, a rightward shift to the political beliefs of many journalists, a desire to service the perceived rightward shift of the audience, and an institutional disinclination to buck authority, the media has (collectively) not been inclined to put the Republicans to the test, expose their mendacity and investigate their corruption and ideological extremism -- and without their willingness to do so, the Democrats will continue to compete on an extremely uneven playing field. The upshot of that is that the election, although a signficant step forward, is probably not as totally an indication of change as it might otherwise appear.

    For this reason while I'm certainly happier than I was, I'm not nearly as optimistic about the idea that the Republican Party is going to fall apart quite so quickly.
  • And then there's the Permanent D.C. Punditocracy, which generally likes to attach itself to those in power, but also generally prefers authoritarianism over democracy, and is undeniably dismissive of progressive ideas, especially when they conflict with their cherished Conventional Wisdom. (Perhaps they should codify Convention Wisdom-worship into a bona fide religion?)

Certainly, Kevin is right when he says "Most people -- including a lot of rank-and file Republicans, I think -- simply don't realize just how radical the modern, Texified GOP is," but I think it goes too far to continue, as he does "But with majority control Democrats now have the institutional power to expose this at every turn, and Republicans have far less ability to hide it," because, despite the gains made in the election, all the factors I've just mentioned are still working against us.

Addendum: I should have mentioned one other structural imbalance which still favors the Republicans: fund-raising.

Being the party of corporations and the rich, they have access to more money in larger amounts than the Democrats do. The imbalance is now somewhat offset by the rise of blogospheric fund-raising and the existence and activities of various quasi-independent groups (independent of specific control if not of basic philosophy), but it's still fundamentally in the Republican's favor. This is because the Republican party essentially exists to service its clientele, Big Business and The Rich, while the Democrats have a more general philosophy of governing in the best interest of the people, and not simply to serve the agenda of its constituent groups.

Because of this there will always be some discord among the various parts of the Democratic coalition, and between those parts and the party itself, which will serve to diminish contributions -- it takes a crisis such as the one we're facing now (and still face despite the results of the 2006 election) to rev up donations from individuals in large enough numbers to bring the party to rough parity with the Republicans. On the other side, however, the Republicans being the party dedicated to representing their interests, money from corporations and the wealthy will always be forthcoming (with or without the existence of the K Street system), without the necessity of a specific impetus to give.

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/20/2006 02:54:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Seems like only yesterday

Bceause for some reason it seems important to me, let me repeat something from the previous post:
We have now been at war in Iraq longer than we were at war with Germany and Japan in World War II.
If you count from the invasion of Afghanistan, we've been engaging in military actions in the "Global War on Terror" for 1900 days now -- over five years.

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/19/2006 05:26:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Counting some days

Days in the Bush administration so far: 2160
Days left to go in the Bush administration: 763
Like a watched pot that never boils, or a kid waiting for Christmas to arrive, the days seem to go exceedingly slowly while waiting for the Bush Administration to mercifully disappear into the back pages of history.

I'd love to come back from the dead 100 years from now, just to see who's considered the worst, Warren G. Harding or George W. ("Dad, please, I can do it myself!") Bush.

Days since the invasion of Iraq: 1371
Days of US in World War II in Europe (to VE Day): 1248
Days of US in World War II overall (to VJ Day): 1347

This is an mark that seems to have passed unnoticed: we have now been at war in Iraq longer than we were at war with Germany and Japan in World War II.

Days since the murder of Nicole Simpson: 4574
Days since the verdict in the O.J. Simpson criminal trial: 4096
Days O.J. Simpson has been unable to find the "real killer": 4096

Unless, of course, you count every time he looks in a mirror.

Days since Newt Gingrich said something totally idiotic: 0

OK, I admit it, I don't have a specific quote from Newtie today, but my faith in the consistency of his nature is so strong that I'm going to run with it anyway!

Age in days of the unfutz weblog: 1207

This is post #2182, which works out to an average of 1.8 posts per day.

My age in days: 19051

The least said, the better.

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/19/2006 04:52:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


(3089/898) IQ, round 1

360) Psychology has long tried to become "scientific" by imitating that most successful science, physics. Psychologists, however, seemed for a very long time to have mistook the most superficial property of physics, its apparent preoccupation with numbers and mathematical formulas, for the core that makes it a science. Large sections of psychology therefore tried to become as mathematical as possible, to count, to quantity, it identify its numbers with variables (preferably ones having subscripted Greek letters), and to manipulate its newfound variables in systems of equations (preferably differential equations) and in matrices just as the physicists do.
Joseph Weizenbaum
Computer Power and Human Reason (1976)

361) Few "scientific" concepts have so thoroughly muddled the thinking of both scientists and the general public as that of the "intelligence quotient" or "I.Q." The idea that intelligence can be quantitatively measured along a simple linear scale has caused untold harm to our society in general, and to education in particular.
Joseph Weizenbaum
Computer Power and Human Reason (1976)

362) Intelligence, [Alfred] Binet proclaimed, is too complex to capture with a single number. This number, later called IQ, is only a rough, empirical guide constructed for a limited practical purpose [...] Intelligence, Binet reminds us, is not a single, scalable thing like height. [...] Binet was too good a theoretician to fall into the logical error that John Stuart Mill had identified - "to believe that whatever received a name must be an entity or being, having an independent existence of its own." [...] [He] greatly feared that his practical device, if reified as an entity, could be perverted and used as an indelible label, rather than as a guide for identifying children who needed [educational] help [its original purpose]. [...] But he feared even more what has since been called the "self-fulfilling prophecy." A rigid label may set a teacher's attitude and eventually divert a child's behavior into a predicted path.
Stephen Jay Gould
The Mismeasure of Man (1981)
[Note: For more from The Mismeasure of Man see #1914-1927 Gould and #1928-1933 Gould.]

Note: "3089/898" is the designation I've given to the project of posting all my collected quotes, excerpts and ideas (3089 of them) in the remaining days of the Bush administration (of which there were 898 left when I began).

As of today, there are 763 days remaining in the administration of the worst American President ever.

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/19/2006 04:26:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Sunday, December 17, 2006


The Committe for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP -- pronounced "psy-cop," as in "psychic cops"), the publishers of Skeptical Inquirer, and indefatigable soldiers in the war against irrationality, have changed their name to the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI -- pronounced C-S-I).
CSI’s mission to promote the application of rational thought to public discourse has always attracted world-class scientists and scholars to this endeavor. But many of them (or at least their colleagues) feel that the word “paranormal” in the name of CSICOP makes the scope of the committee appear narrower than it actually is. It always required an explanation that we weren’t the promoters of the paranormal but the scientific investigators, the critical evaluators. Finally, many academics and others just didn’t want to be associated at all with anything with the paranormal in its name, no matter the context. Many of us understood, and some even shared the feeling. As we look to the future, CSI seeks to expand its reach, and the Executive Council felt that focusing CSI on skepticism rather than the paranormal would convey the interests of CSI more broadly.

CSI will continue to publish Skeptical Inquirer and do the same range of good work they've done in the past.

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/17/2006 05:13:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Ed Fitzgerald

Clowns to the left of me,
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Here I am...
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Martin van Creveld - The Transformation of War

Jay Feldman - When the Mississippi Ran Backwards

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Alfred W. Crosby - America's Forgotten Pandemic (1989)
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Bullshit, trolling, unthinking knee-jerk dogmatism and the drivel of idiots will be ruthlessly deleted and the posters banned.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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the proud unfutz guarantee
If you read unfutz at least once a week, without fail, your teeth will be whiter and your love life more satisfying.

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

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

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

original content
© 2003-2008
Ed Fitzgerald


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