Saturday, February 03, 2007

A nice analogy

I hadn't heard this one before, and I like it, it's very apt. T.A. Frank, from Political Animal:
So I visit a rundown zoo and see hyenas in miserable cages, lions in miserable cages, and antelopes in miserable cages. I'm disgusted by their conditions, so I attack the zookeepers and set the animals free. The lions eat the antelopes, the hyenas eat the antelopes (and sometimes the lions, too), and the antelopes run for shelter. Should I feel bad for not having minded my own business? No way, says Charles Krauthammer. Hey, who knew that lions liked to eat antelopes? "We midwifed their freedom. They chose civil war."
Yep, no one knew -- except all of us who did, who said so repeatedly and were ignored, and continue to be ignored by the powers that be.

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/03/2007 10:19:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Why nations go to war

Stoessinger - Why Nations Go To WarIn Why Nations Go To War (1998), international relations professor John G. Stoessinger draws some conclusions from seven case studies (World War I, Hitler's Attack on Russia in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Arab/Israeli conflict, Iran-Iraq war and Saddam's takeover of Kuwait, and Bosnia)*:
  • The first general theme that compels attention is that no nation that began a major war in this century emerged a winner.

  • With regard to the problem of the outbreak of war, the case studies indicate the crucial importance of the personalities of leaders.

  • The case materials reveals that perhaps the most important single precipitating factor in the outbreak of war is misperception. Such distortion may manifest itself in four different ways: in a leader's image of himself; a leader's view of his adversary's character; a leader's view of his adversary's intentions toward himself; and finally, a leader's view of his adversary's capabilities and power.

  • There is a remarkable consistency in the self-images of most national leaders on the brink of war. Each confidently expects victory after a brief and triumphant campaign.

  • This common belief in a short, decisive war is usually the overflow from a reservoir of self-delusions held by the leadership about both itself and the nation.

  • Distorted views of the adversary's character also help to precipitate a conflict.

  • When a leader on the brink of war believe that his adversary will attack him, the chances of war are fairly high. When both leaders share the perception about each other's intent, war become a virtual certainty.

  • A leader's misperception of his adversary's power is perhaps the quintessential cause of war. It is vital to remember, however, that it is not the actual distribution of power that precipitates a war, it is the way in which a leader thinks that power is distributed.

  • Thus, on the eve of each war, at least one nation misperceives another's power. In that sense the beginning of each war is a misperception or an accident. The war itself then slowly, and in agony, teaches the lesson of reality.

One comment I'd make is that Stoessinger's data set is necessarily limited in certain ways. For instance, he's not able to fully analyze the thoughts and actions of the leaders of closed societies, because that information is not available to him. Thus his analysis of why Stalin ignored the clear and specific (and accurate) warnings he received about Hitler's forthcoming attack is mostly speculative. Similarly, he can only speculate about why the North Koreans (or the Soviets using them as proxies) invaded South Korea, and his primary analysis in the case study therefore concerns the United States' response to the attack. Given that our current government is the most secretive and closed-off we've seen since World War II, it's difficult to apply Stoessinger's conclusions to the actions of the Bush Admnistration in invading Iraq and in their current (quite obvious) search for a casus belli to justify their long-held desire to attack Iran.

One other thing -- it's quite clear from the Administration's recent actions that, contrary to one of Stoessinger's points, Bush and Cheney have learned absolutely nothing from this war as it's progressed [sic] so far; instead, it's the American people, who began by mistakenly being supportive of Bush's invasion, who have learned those difficult lessons.

Still, I certainly agree with Stoessinger that the personality of the leaders is a primary determining factor: although it's hard to be sure, because much of what they've done really makes very little sense, the war is Iraq seems to ultimately be the result of Cheney's authoritarianism and Bush's many weaknesses being worked on by the fantasies of the neo-cons.

* The material I've quoted is from the Seventh Edition of the book. For the current edition, the Ninth, three other studies are apparently included, according to a customer review on the wars between India & Pakistan, the war in Afghanistan & the American-Iraqi war. I'm unsure if the last refers to the current war or the Persian Gulf war, but I assume the former, and I would be very interested in getting hold of it to see how Stoessinger breaks down the cause(s) of Bush's war.

Addendum: I haven't been able to find anyplace where he spells out his thoughts about the current state of the Iraq War in more detail, but his speakers bureau listing says: "Dr. Stoessinger believes that history points to an honorable exit strategy from Iraq, whereby the United States would depart with a sense of accomplishment." That seems pretty damned optimistic to me.

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/03/2007 02:41:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Sex sells

Arianna Huffington writes:
I just finished watching San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom apologize for having a sexual relationship with the wife of his former campaign manager, Alex Tourk.

"I'm deeply sorry," he said during a brief City Hall news conference.

The TV described this as "Breaking News." By what definition? I mean, really, why is this anybody's business -- except for Mr.

Newsom, Mr. Tourk, Mr. Tourk's wife (the evocatively named Ruby Rippey-Tourk), and Mr. Newsom's ex-wife.

Why is this a public matter?
Huffington is confused, to say the least. The private lives of public officials have always been fodder for gossip, and that includes gossip passing as news. (I agree it's hardly important enough to be slugged as breaking news, but that's the way they do it these days -- besides, they were covering a live event.)

Huffington might be confusing the natural salaciousness of the press, wich can be annoying but is simply the nature of that particular beast, and probably unavoidable, with what happened in the Clinton impeachment, when a high public official was impeached over, essentially, a private sexual matter which should never have even been given the least bit of weight in a legitimate investigation of official misdeeds. That's the bright line that needs to be preserved, not the reporting of the sexual antics of politicians -- trying to stop that would be like trying to stop the rain from falling.

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/03/2007 01:58:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Friday, February 02, 2007

Friday Photography: Taverna Tables

click to enlarge

Daryl Samuel (1993)

Location: Paroikia, Paros, 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 / Olive Trees / Madison Square Park in the Snow / Pagoda / Ferry / Sand Tracks / General Store

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/02/2007 08:40:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


(3089/898) Death, lies and brainwashing

524) For those who live neither with religious consolations about death nor with a sense of death (or of anything else) as natural, death is the obscene mystery, the ultimate affront, the thing that cannot be controlled. It can only be denied.
Susan Sontag
Illness as a Metaphor (1978) [CQ]

525) Phillipe Aries describes how many in the Middle Ages prepared themselves for death when they "felt the end approach." They awaited death lying down, surrounded by friends and relatives. They recollected all they had lived through and done, pardoning all those who stood near their deathbed, calling on God to bless them, and finally praying. "After the final prayer all that remained was to wait for death, and there was no reason for death to tarry."
Sissela Bok
Lying (1978)
citing Phillipe Aries in
Western Attitudes Towards Death (1975)

526) The word "hypocrisy" [...] has revealing connotations. The Greek word originally meant "answer", including the kind on answers actors give each other on stage. By extension, it came to mean acting on stage and then acting a part even offstage. Its present meaning is: the assumption of a false appearance of virtue or goodness, with dissimulation of real characters or inclinations.
Sissela Bok
Lying (1978)

527) It has frequently been noted that the surest result of brainwashing in the long run is a peculiar kind of cynicism, the absolute refusal to believe in the truth of anything, no matter how well it may be established. In other words, the result of a consistent and total substitution of lies for factual truth is not that the lie will now be accepted as truth, and truth be defamed as lie, but that the sense by which we take our bearings in the real world - and the category of truth versus falsehood is among the mental means to this end - is being destroyed.
Hannah Arendt
"Truth and Politics" in
Philosophy, Politics and Society (1967)
Peter Laslett & W.G. Runciman (eds.)
quoted by Sissela Bok in
Lying (1978)

528) When in doubt, tell the truth. It will confound your enemies and astound your friends.
Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens)
Following the Equator (1897) [B16]
quoted by Sissela Bok in
Lying (1978)


[B16] - Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 16th edition (1993)
[CQ] - The Columbia Dictionary of Quotations (1993)

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 718 days remaining in the administration of the worst American President ever.

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/02/2007 08:30:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Keep that money rollin' in!

Exxon Mobil Corp. Thursday reported the biggest annual profit on record for a U.S. corporation - earning more than $75,000 every minute of 2006 on the back of record oil prices.

The world's biggest publicly traded company by revenue posted net earnings of $39.5 billion on revenue of $377.6 billion last year, topping its previous profit record of $36.1 billion in 2005, which at the time was the largest for any U.S. company.

Not adjusted for inflation, oil prices hit a record high of $77.03 a barrel last July, pushing gasoline prices above $3 a gallon nationwide.

Yippee! Keep on driving those SUVs -- it's your civic duty to keep the oil companies floating in dough. They say they need those record profits to compete with foreign oil companies, because the profits help them to ... help them to... Well, I guess the profits really don't help them, do they, because if they money was going to do something, it'd be plowed back into the company, and it wouldn't be profit then, would it?

But fear not, Exxon Mobil is doing their part -- why they spent $19.9 billion on oil exploration and production, which is up 12% from the year before, but still amounts to only about half the amount they chose to take in profits. Gee, I suppose they could have reinvested half of their profits, another $20 billion, into alternative energy development, I suppose that would have been helpful. Oh, but then their stockholders would only have a little less than $20 billion to divide up and who's going to invest in a company that shows only a measly $20,000,000,000 profit!!

It's a tough world out there in the corporate jungle, pity the poor companies like Exxon Mobil who are forced to take staggering profits just to stay alive.

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/01/2007 04:48:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


(3089/898) A little flogging, a big "fish"

520) I wish you were my obedient humble servant.[...] I should begin by a little flogging.
Isambard Kingdom Brunel
engineer and builder,
in response to
John Scott Russell,
owner of the shipyard building
Brunel's steamship
"The Great Eastern" (c. 1857)
quoted by Doug Stewart in
"There was too much Jonah
in Brunel's hapless leviathan" in
Smithsonian (11/94)

521) My question is, why do people wear clothes made from thin, delicate material, and a thing that hangs from the neck, and shoes with no soles? A tie gets caught in things, and there aren't enough pockets [...] and if you do anything, by the end of the day those delicate clothes get dirty and ruined. So I wear these clothes [jeans, a denim work shirt and square-toed leather boots] because I work. And frankly, the message sent by suits and ties -- which is, 'I don't really work' -- is offensive to me.
Dean Kamen
multimillionaire inventor and engineer,
quoted by Steve Kemper in
"'If you do not want to hear about
what he does, do not ask'" in
Smithsonian (11/94)

522) I hope that this whole experience [a robot-design competition] has convinced you that technology is accessible, rewarding and fun, and that you'd better work at it now. There are only two alternatives: you'll be dumb or you'll grow up and be a lawyer.
Dean Kamen
multimillionaire inventor and engineer,
quoted by Steve Kemper in
"'If you do not want to hear about
what he does, do not ask'" in
Smithsonian (11/94)

523) The classification of the planet's life-forms has implications that reach beyond biology. Take the capybara, a shy and intelligent rodent that in size [...] and color looks much like a pig. Yet in the 16th century, in response to a petition by Venezuelans and Colombians, the pope decreed that the capybara is a fish. The dispensation enables observant communicants to consume the creature during the fast of Lent [...] Likewise gracing the Lenten menu in parts of Canada is the beaver's tail. The scaliness and predominantly aquatic environment of the appendage persuaded the Royal Academy of Sciences of Paris in the early 1700s to place it in the piscine order. The faculty of divinity at the University of Paris graciously deferred to the superior scientific acumen of its colleagues.
Madhusree Mukerjee
"What's in a Name?" in
Scientific American (11/94)

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 719 days remaining in the administration of the worst American President ever.

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/01/2007 02:58:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE



At long last, there will never be any reason to refer to Joe Biden's Presidential campaign ever again -- I'm free!

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/01/2007 12:37:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Molly Ivins, RIP

August 30, 1944 - January 31, 2007

Molly Ivins has died at 62, from breast cancer. We've lost a unique and feisty voice for political rationality and reason.

The Texas Observer, the paper she wrote for from 1970-1976, has a tribute to her.

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/31/2007 11:56:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE



Seattle PI:
Former White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby is the defendant but journalism seemed at times to be on trial Wednesday as two reporters were questioned about their methods.

Libby's attorneys asked former New York Times reporter Judith Miller about her spotty memory and former Time reporter Matthew Cooper about his sloppy note-taking and inconsistent handling of confidential sources.

It's exactly what journalism groups feared when the trial began. Roy Peter Clark, an instructor at the Poynter Institute journalism center, predicted when the trial started that it would make both government spin doctors and reporters look bad.

The first part of that prediction came true early in the trial. On Wednesday, journalists had their day.

"If you take that snapshot as representative of the whole industry, it can make us look pretty bad," said Jane Kirtley, a media ethics professor at the University of Minnesota.


[Cooper's] testimony underscores the fact that reporters do not share a common understanding of what terms such as off-the-record and on background mean.

Clark said cross-examination makes any profession look bad, from emergency room doctors to high school teachers. The craft of journalism, he said, isn't always pretty but that doesn't mean its practitioners are irresponsible.

"In this case," Clark said, "the public will be watching sausage being made."
Many long years ago, I worked on a project and, through unusual circumstances, was able to see a great deal of what went on in putting it together. Every now and then, some egregious bit of malarkey would provoke me to share it with a friend also working on the project, and "Sausages!" became our secret watchword, pointing out that it was better not to know how it was assembled.

It's true that it's sometimes better for our tender sensibilities not to see the process by which some things are made or deeds done, but that is not the problem with contemporary American journalism. The problem is that the sausages the media purveys aren't savory and tasty as they should be, they're spoiled and tainted and make us sick to our stomachs.

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/31/2007 10:51:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


(3089/898) Practice, personal, paranormal, press, plateau

It's like Spring-Training in real football.
Nothing personal, but let's forget the star-in-
College shit. Now you're going to learn to
Play Football. Let's try running into things.
First you have to learn to throw your weight
Way out in front. It's got to be ahead of you.
As close to the ground as possible. If you
Don't run into something, you fall down.
Like when you run down hill and lose control.
But in practice here and in real football
You will almost always run into something,
Equal and opposite, and the result will
Lift you both up, like continents colliding.
And the stronger will go forward. That's
What you're getting paid to fucking do.
Robert Ashley
Foreign Experiences (opera, 1994)

No, George, there is your mother, my mother and birth control.
These are three reasons why we should not get married.
Robert Ashley
Improvement (Don Leaves Linda) (opera, 1991)

515) Up close and personal the [Washington, D.C.] capital community was phony beyond belief or toleration [...] a city of hypocrisy, a Mecca of hypocrisy, a Vatican of hypocrisy. The hypocrisy of the place impoverished conversation, undermined friendship, stupefied the mind, saddened the heart. Washington, I learned, was to hypocrisy what Mexico City is to smog, what France is to ethnocentrism, what Chernobyl is to nuclear risk, what Newcastle was to coals.
Paul Weaver
News and the Culture of Lying (1994)

516) A Rhode Island College psychologist says he has uncovered a strange quirk in the voting behavior of people who believe in psychic powers, UFOs, and other elements of the supernatural. While most believers tend to be liberal in their views, Tom Randall [...] says his surveys have shown that a disproportionate number tended to vote for third-party conservatives. [...] Third-party supporters had, by far, the highest level of belief in the paranormal. (Republicans had the lowest.) Randall said that the findings seem to suggest that such supporters of third-party conservatives may be embracing candidates who offer quick, easy, and almost magical solutions to problems. "I suspect a degree of magical thinking characterizes (the type of voter) who is dazzled by the charismatic charm of, say, a Ross Perot..."
C. Eugene Emery, Jr.
"New Age Believers Favor Third-Party Conservatives" in
Skeptical Inquirer (Fall 1994)

517) With the advent of spin doctors, lawyers finally have someone they can look down on.
Ed Fitzgerald (10/13/94)

518) The problem for the press is that its core values, such as objectivity and skepticism, do not mesh well with the rally-round-the-flag passions that swept the country in wartime.
Howard Kurtz
Media Circus (1993)

519) As a species, we seem to have reached a plateau in our intellectual development. There is no sign that we are getting smarter. [...] We have learned a lot in 2,000 years, yet much ancient wisdom still seems sound, which makes me think that we have not been making much progress. We still do not know how to resolve conflicts between individual goals and global interests. We are so bad at making decisions that, whenever we can, we leave to chance what we are unsure about.
Marvin Minsky
"Will Robots Inherit the Earth?" in
Scientific American (10/94)

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 720 days remaining in the administration of the worst American President ever.

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/31/2007 09:05:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Airy and spacious, with a view

Bloomberg News via Seattle PI:
Airbus, maker of the delayed A380 superjumbo, is in talks with two potential buyers of private versions of the $300 million plane that the company calls the "flying palace."

"They are not customers until they sign, but there are two very interested parties," Richard Gaona, vice president of Airbus' executive and private aviation unit, said in an interview Monday in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. "It's going to be a private jet," Gaona said, adding that one of the customers was in the Middle East.
Hey, folks, keep buying those gas-guzzling SUVs!

(Just a reminder that the A380 in commercial use will accomodate from 555 to 853 people, depending on the configuration.)

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/31/2007 07:46:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Tuesday, January 30, 2007


It's just occured to me, that if I'm right, as I wrote in the previous post, that the successful candidate in 2008 will be the one who is "calm and calming, assured and reassuring, who projects both confidence they can get things back in proper balance and conviction of its necessity," this might be a problem for Hillary Clinton. Because she's trying to overcome the hurdle of being the first serious female candidate for the Presidency, and also presumably has to overcome a certain amount of prejudice that a woman is not best suited for the job, she may be tempted to project power attributes like aggressiveness and energy and strength, not exactly the opposite of what I've coming to believe will play best in that election, but somewhat at a severe angle to it.

If, on the other hand, I'm correct, and she reads that situation and moves to put over those somewhat softer attributes, she will almost certainly be lambasted, either for playing too much on her gender or for not being Presidential (i.e. masculine) enough. She could get stuck in a nasty catch-22, one that would exist in any Presidential election featuring the first woman candidate, but made perhaps more profound by the dictates of the current circumstances.

(And it's not just Hillary's problem. Well meaning people, worried about the long-standing stereotype of Democrats as soft on national security issues, will undoubtedly try to get John Edwards to butch up his act a bit. That might be suitable advice in a normal election, but not this time, I don't think. Not only will the craving for normalcy make a calm and caring -- but determined -- persona more effective, given the divisiveness and insecurities of the Bush years, but "national security" as a general subject isn't going to be very important at all -- Iraq is, and the key there is that any Democrat who wants to win needs to be all about getting out of that morass, not about being all macho.)

Update: I note that the one campaign button I've seen for Hillary has a picture of her giving the thumbs up, and says "I'm in to win" -- so an aggressive posture seems to be her first choice coming out of the box.

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/30/2007 08:27:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Breaking the despair machine

Chris Hedges, author of American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America:
The engine that drives the radical Christian Right in the United States, the most dangerous mass movement in American history, is not religiosity, but despair. It is a movement built on the growing personal and economic despair of tens of millions of Americans, who watched helplessly as their communities were plunged into poverty by the flight of manufacturing jobs, their families and neighborhoods torn apart by neglect and indifference, and who eventually lost hope that America was a place where they had a future.

This despair crosses economic boundaries, of course, enveloping many in the middle class who live trapped in huge, soulless exurbs where, lacking any form of community rituals or centers, they also feel deeply isolated, vulnerable and lonely. Those in despair are the most easily manipulated by demagogues, who promise a fantastic utopia, whether it is a worker’s paradise, fraternite-egalite-liberte, or the second coming of Jesus Christ. Those in despair search desperately for a solution, the warm embrace of a community to replace the one they lost, a sense of purpose and meaning in life, the assurance they are protected, loved and worthwhile.


In the United States we have turned our backs on the working class, with much of the worst assaults, such as NAFTA and welfare reform, pushed though during President Clinton’s Democratic administration. We stand passively and watch an equally pernicious assault on the middle class. Anything that can be put on software, from architecture to engineering to finance, will soon be handed to workers overseas who will be paid a third what their American counterparts receive and who will, like some 45 million Americans, have no access to health insurance or benefits.

There has been, along with the creation of an American oligarchy, a steady Weimarization of the American working class. The top one percent of American households have more wealth than the bottom 90 percent combined. This figure alone should terrify all who care about our democracy. As Plutarch reminded us “an imbalance between the rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics.”


Those who lead the movement give their followers a moral license to direct this rage and yearning for violence against all those who refuse to submit to the movement, from liberals, to “secular humanists,” to “nominal Christians,” to intellectuals, to gays and lesbians, to Muslims. These radicals, from James Dobson to Pat Robertson, call for a theocratic state that will, if it comes to pass, bear within it many of the traits of classical fascism.

All radical movements need a crisis or a prolonged period of instability to achieve power. And we are not in a period of crisis now. But another catastrophic terrorist attack on American soil, a series of huge environmental disasters or an economic meltdown will hand to these radicals the opening they seek. Manipulating our fear and anxiety, promising to make us safe and secure, giving us the assurance that they can vanquish the forces that mean to do us harm, these radicals, many of whom have achieved powerful positions in the Executive and legislative branches of government, as well as the military, will ask us only to surrender our rights, to pass them the unlimited power they need to battle the forces of darkness.

They will have behind them tens of millions of angry, disenfranchised Americans longing for revenge and yearning for a mythical utopia, Americans who embraced a theology of despair because we offered them nothing else.
Hedges may be overstating the case a bit (a condition endemic in this country at the moment, I've noticed) but there is surely some measure of truth in this. Certainly the horrendous gap between the rich and the poor (and, perhaps even more importantly, the gap between the rich and the middle class) is stretching our social fabric to the ripping point, and we are further stressed by the increasing social insecurity represented by the health insurance crisis, a stagnant economy which shows only paper gains, the flatness of workers' compensation (especially compared to upper management) and the transfer of more and more risk from corporations onto the back of the average American.

All of these factors contribute to the growing sense of severe discomfort I've noticed in the country, and that is why I believe that a progressive populist agenda which will address many of these concerns will win the next election. It's also why I currently favor John Edwards, who has been the most consistent and fervent advocate of that sort of agenda, as our candidate in 2008.

We need to counter the despair that comes from economic dislocation, stress and insecurity, and restore to civil and secular society the people that are being lured away by the dubious comforts of fundamentalism. Religion of this sort offers absolute certainty, which we obviously cannot, but people turn to absolutes when the relative certainties of their lives are stripped away from them. In a fair, just, egalitarian, secure and settled society, there is enough certainty, despite the randomness of much of life, to allow people to feel comfortable about getting on with their lives. When you deliberately strip those things away, as several generations of Republicans have done in order to better service their clientele -- corporations and the rich -- you provoke the insecurity and helplessness which eventually leads to despair. (And please note the neat circularity of that machine: Republicans create more insecurity which drives more people into the radical religious right who then support Republicans!)

When people don't have the personal, familial, societal and structural resources to deal with the various crises that inevitably pop up in life, they do their best to muddle through, at the expense of their ability to muddle through the next crisis and the next one. At some point, there's little or nothing left except optimism and spirit, and those can't last forever. Inexorably, some new problem will appear and the tipping point will have been reached.

It's a big part of ondoing the ravages of Bush (and his predecessors) that we need to break the Republican/religious right despair machine, restore the balances, and get the country back to some sense of normalcy, so that everyone can cut down the rhetoric, turn down the vitriol, chill out a bit and just get on with life. The candidate who is calm and calming, assured and reassuring, who projects both confidence they can get things back in proper balance and conviction of its necessity is going to win in 2008.

[via Follow Me Here]

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/30/2007 07:53:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


This bass-ackward land of ours

Sometimes I feel as if I'm living in a topsy-turvy, Alice-through-the-looking-glass world:

Fox's Roger Ailes is getting a First Amendment award.

[Thanks to Romaine]

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/30/2007 01:42:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Don't sound the alarm!

Reuters via ABC:
When 75,000 football fans pack into Dolphin Stadium in Miami for the Super Bowl on February 4, at least a few may want to carry notes from their doctors explaining why they're radioactive enough to set off "dirty bomb" alarms.

With the rising use of radioisotopes in medicine and the growing use of radiation detectors in a security-conscious nation, patients are triggering alarms in places where they may not even realize they're being scanned, doctors and security officials say.

Nearly 60,000 people a day in the United States undergo treatment or tests that leave tiny amounts of radioactive material in their bodies, according to the Society of Nuclear Medicine. It is not enough to hurt them or anyone else, but it is enough to trigger radiation alarms for up to three months.

This is of interest to me, and in fact I thought about it just last week when I underwent a stress test to check out how my heart is doing after my heart attack and stent implantation of 2 1/2 years ago. The procedure involves the injection of radioactive thallium before and after the test, so they can take before and after pictures of the heart using the emitted radioactivity. As I waited to talk to the doctor about the results, I wondered if on the way home on the subway I might not set off one of the new "dirty bomb" detectors rumored to be around (and under) the city. Nothing happened, though, except that I almost missed my stop due to being engrossed in the book I was reading.

Good thing I'm not planning on flying anywhere in the next couple of months. That could be fun!

(Oh, and my heart is doing just fine, thank you.)

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/30/2007 01:20:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


(3089/898) Three blind mice

510) Our whole system of consumption and marketing and distribution is still based on a mass-production model [...] Network broadcasting is still in the mass-production business at a time when computer chips allow manufacturers to customize cars or suits [...] Cap Cities [which bought ABC] and Larry Tisch [who took control of CBS] are perfect to keep the dinosaur [...] They will teach it to eat a little less every day. That's what they know. They are not innovators. Not that they're stupid. It's not what they learned to do. They learned cost efficiency. I'm not sure about the GE [which bought NBC] guys, because the GE culture is innovative. What I am sure about is that the networks have been taken over by the efficient rather than the creative. To generate more value, they've got to be more creative. And that's not their talent [...] America is dying of efficiency.
Lester Wunderman
chairman of direct-marketing company
Wunderman Worldwide (interviewed 4/4/88)
quoted by Ken Auletta in
Three Blind Mice: How the TV Networks
Lost Their Way

511) I invite you to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and stay there without a book, magazine, newspaper, profit and loss sheet or rating book to distract you - and keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that you will observe a vast wasteland. You will see a procession of game shows, violence, audience participation shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western badmen, western good men, private eyes, gangsters [...] And endlessly, commercials [...]
Newton N. Minow
chairman of the FCC,
in a speech to the
National Association of Broadcasters (1961),
quoted by Erik Barnouw in
Tube of Plenty (1975)
cited by Ken Auletta in
Three Blind Mice: How the TV Networks
Lost Their Way

512) You can't operate a company by fear, because the way to eliminate fear is to avoid criticism. And the way to avoid criticism is to do nothing.
Steve Ross
CEO of Warner Communications
(and later co-ceo of Time Warner Inc)
(interviewed 2/3/88)
quoted by Ken Auletta in
Three Blind Mice: How the TV Networks
Lost Their Way

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 721 days remaining in the administration of the worst American President ever.

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/30/2007 12:16:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Monday, January 29, 2007

(3089/898) Quick quips

504) As long as war is regarded as wicked, it will always have its fascination. When it is looked upon as vulgar, it will cease to be popular.
Oscar Wilde
The Critic as Artist (1891) [B16]

505) There is no such thing as a moral or immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.
Oscar Wilde
The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891) [B16]

506) We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.
Oscar Wilde
Lady Windemere's Fan (play) (1892) [B16]

507) Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes.
Oscar Wilde
Lady Windemere's Fan (play) (1892) [B16]

508) Women have to learn to bear anecdotes from men they love. It is the curse of Eve.
P.G. Wodehouse
quoted by William Poundstone in
The Prisoner's Dilemma (1992)

509) If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Then quit. No use being a damn fool about it.
W.C. Fields
quoted by William Poundstone in
The Prisoner's Dilemma (1992)


[B16] - Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 16th edition (1993)

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 722 days remaining in the administration of the worst American President ever.

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/29/2007 11:54:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


"So, Science is your god."

I recently had reason to be examined by a psychiatrist. As part of the interview, he asked me about my religious beliefs, and I told him that I had no religious beliefs, that I am an atheist. He probed that a little, gently, trying to find a nick in my wall, some edge around which a little religious mysticism might have escaped, but only for a bit, and then he said "So, Science is your god" and began to turn to other matters. I was a little nonplussed, and muttered something like "Yes, I suppose you could say that," but I was bothered by both his statement and my reply.

Tonight, I glanced at the Wikipedia article on Daniel Dennett, the philospher, cognitive soientist and atheist, and found out that Dennett had a brush with death in October, 2006 due to a heart problem. I surfed over to his essay about the incident on the Edge website, and found there in Dennett's words a partial explanation of why I was bothered by my psychiatrist's statement and my aquiescence to it:
Do I worship modern medicine? Is science my religion? Not at all; there is no aspect of modern medicine or science that I would exempt from the most rigorous scrutiny, and I can readily identify a host of serious problems that still need to be fixed. That's easy to do, of course, because the worlds of medicine and science are already engaged in the most obsessive, intensive, and humble self-assessments yet known to human institutions, and they regularly make public the results of their self-examinations. Moreover, this open-ended rational criticism, imperfect as it is, is the secret of the astounding success of these human enterprises. There are measurable improvements every day. Had I had my blasted aorta a decade ago, there would have been no prayer of saving me. It's hardly routine today, but the odds of my survival were actually not so bad (these days, roughly 33 percent of aortic dissection patients die in the first twenty-four hours after onset without treatment, and the odds get worse by the hour thereafter).

One thing in particular struck me when I compared the medical world on which my life now depended with the religious institutions I have been studying so intensively in recent years. One of the gentler, more supportive themes to be found in every religion (so far as I know) is the idea that what really matters is what is in your heart: if you have good intentions, and are trying to do what (God says) is right, that is all anyone can ask. Not so in medicine! If you are wrong—especially if you should have known better—your good intentions count for almost nothing. And whereas taking a leap of faith and acting without further scrutiny of one's options is often celebrated by religions, it is considered a grave sin in medicine. A doctor whose devout faith in his personal revelations about how to treat aortic aneurysm led him to engage in untested trials with human patients would be severely reprimanded if not driven out of medicine altogether. There are exceptions, of course. A few swashbuckling, risk-taking pioneers are tolerated and (if they prove to be right) eventually honored, but they can exist only as rare exceptions to the ideal of the methodical investigator who scrupulously rules out alternative theories before putting his own into practice. Good intentions and inspiration are simply not enough.

In other words, whereas religions may serve a benign purpose by letting many people feel comfortable with the level of morality they themselves can attain, no religion holds its members to the high standards of moral responsibility that the secular world of science and medicine does! And I'm not just talking about the standards 'at the top'—among the surgeons and doctors who make life or death decisions every day. I'm talking about the standards of conscientiousness endorsed by the lab technicians and meal preparers, too. This tradition puts its faith in the unlimited application of reason and empirical inquiry, checking and re-checking, and getting in the habit of asking "What if I'm wrong?" Appeals to faith or membership are never tolerated. Imagine the reception a scientist would get if he tried to suggest that others couldn't replicate his results because they just didn't share the faith of the people in his lab! And, to return to my main point, it is the goodness of this tradition of reason and open inquiry that I thank for my being alive today.
So for me, as for Dennett, science (and rationality) is not my God, or my religion. I don't worship it or follow its precepts blindly without thought and analysis, nor do I rely on it to comfort me in the night. It's simply the standard that I judge the world by and the framework that describes the world in a totality that in some fashion (at times in ways that I cannot see and may not, at the moment, understand) makes sense -- because it couldn't possibly represent reality accurately without making sense. It's not even an ideology, really, because ideologies are about fixed ideas and science is about a process the highest purpose of which is to knock down previously accepted ideas once the continued gathering and analysis of evidence no longer supports them. An ideologue confronted with a clash between his dogma and the facts of the real world falls back on his dogma; a rationalist who discovers that the facts do not support his currently-accepted theory of the world either looks for more facts, or for a new theory. It may not happen overnight, even scientists and rationalists get invested in their current worldview, but it does and will happen, because if it doesn't, science is nothing, and no good to anyone.

For some reason, my psychiatrist assumed that everyone must have a god, and if mine wasn't the God of religion, then it must therefore be Science. I sure hope that he's wrong about that, about everyone having to worship a god, because for all the good that religions have done, in inculcating moral codes, organizing civilizations and ameliorating the worst parts of the human condition (for instance), I still think we'd all be better off without gods of any kind, since they serve in large part to excuse us from our responsibilities to ourselves, to each other, and to the physical world we live in.

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/29/2007 04:33:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


My choice

A friend of mine saw Dennis Kucinich speak in Los Angeles, and came away inspired by his words to take a stand for what is good and fair and just in the world. What, she asked, is my choice?

Well, my personal choice is to begin the long and difficult task, which will probably take at least several decades, of undoing the vast amount of damage done to us and the world by George Bush and Dick Cheney and their administration, and I will begin (or continue) to do that by doing absolutely nothing which will get in the way of a Democratic candidate winning back the White House in 2008.

To that extent, I will support a candidate who can win, the one who comes the closest to my own personal views but, most importantly, who can attract the votes of a sufficient number of Americans to beat the Republican candidate. We're fortunate that we're in a pretty good condition to pull that off, since the country is tired of Iraq, distrustful of the Administration, and beginning to become dispirited about the economic problems which have started to become sharper and more damaging. This means that it's no longer entirely necessary to be completely obsessive that our candidate is the absolute best possible choice, since we have some more of a margin to win.

Still, we cannot afford to throw away this chance by taking on someone whose negatives may outweigh their positives, someone who provides an easy target for the negative scorched-earth campaigning that's sure to come their way, someone who is so lightweight that he or she cannot be taken seriously by the electorate, or someone who is so idealistic and unrealistic that he inspires people who share his ideology but will not attract enough others to win an election.

I'm not interested in idealism, I'm not interested in inspiration, I'm not interested in high-minded speeches that preach to the choir, I'm not interested in empty payback or wish-fulfillment, I'm interested only in reality-based evaluations of the deep shit we're in, and realistic plans that will start to get us out of it. I want words and ideas and people who will attract the most possible voters so that Democrats can control the White House and the Congress for the foreseeable future, the minimum possible time needed to make some progress on the huge project of saving us from the Bush/Cheney disaster.

That's it. A good speech is nice. A great speech is nicer. A brilliant speech will make me cry, but the most important things I want from a candidate is to win and start to make things better. A plan to do good deeds, and stand up for lofty principles, and inspire the people to the better angels of their nature is all fine and good, but it doesn't mean diddley-squat if you can't get elected and put it into effect.

Joe Biden, as I've said repeatedly on this site, will never be President. Rudy Giuliani will never be President, and Dennis Kucinich doesn't have a prayer in heaven of becoming President, so I can't see any reason to waste even this little amount of time on considering him.

I've got ideals, and I think they're pretty good. I hope that when we get back into power we'll continue to be guided by them in everything we do -- but first we need to get that power, only then can we start.

[Thanks to Breeze]

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/29/2007 03:37:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Sunday, January 28, 2007

(3089/898) Hume & Sagan

501) Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence.
David Hume
"Of Miracles" in
Enquiries Concerning Human Understanding (1748)
[Note: cf. #586]

502) We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology.
Carl Sagan
quoted by Isaac Asimov in
"Essay 400 - A Way of Thinking" in
The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (12/94)

503) We are an intelligent species and the use of our intelligence quite properly gives us pleasure. In this respect the brain is like a muscle. When it is in use we feel very good. Understanding is joyous.
Carl Sagan
Broca's Brain (1979) [CQ]


[CQ] - The Columbia Dictionary of Quotations (1993)

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 723 days remaining in the administration of the worst American President ever.

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/28/2007 01:39:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Ed Fitzgerald

Clowns to the left of me,
Jokers to the right,
Here I am...
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Progressive populism!
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Restore the balance
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election prediction
Democrats 230 (+27) - Republicans 205

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Democrats 50 (+5) - Republicans 50

Democrats 51 (+6) - Republicans 49

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Never a bridesmaid...

...and never a bride, either!!

what I've been reading
Martin van Creveld - The Transformation of War

Jay Feldman - When the Mississippi Ran Backwards

Martin van Creveld - The Rise and Decline of the State

Alfred W. Crosby - America's Forgotten Pandemic (1989)
bush & company are...
class warriors
con artists
hostile to science
lacking in empathy
lacking in public spirit
not candid
not "reality-based"
not trustworthy
out of control
without integrity

Thanks to: Breeze, Chuck, Ivan Raikov, Kaiju, Kathy, Roger, Shirley, S.M. Dixon
recently seen
Island in the Sky (1952)

Robot Chicken

The Family Guy

House M.D. (2004-7)
i've got a little list...
Elliott Abrams
Steven Abrams (Kansas BofE)
David Addington
Howard Fieldstead Ahmanson
Roger Ailes (FNC)
John Ashcroft
Bob Bennett
William Bennett
Joe Biden
John Bolton
Alan Bonsell (Dover BofE)
Pat Buchanan
Bill Buckingham (Dover BofE)
George W. Bush
Saxby Chambliss
Bruce Chapman (DI)
Dick Cheney
Lynne Cheney
Richard Cohen
The Coors Family
Ann Coulter
Michael Crichton
Lanny Davis
Tom DeLay
William A. Dembski
James Dobson
Leonard Downie (WaPo)
Dinesh D’Souza
Gregg Easterbrook
Jerry Falwell
Douglas Feith
Arthur Finkelstein
Bill Frist
George Gilder
Newt Gingrich
John Gibson (FNC)
Alberto Gonzalez
Rudolph Giuliani
Sean Hannity
Katherine Harris
Fred Hiatt (WaPo)
Christopher Hitchens
David Horowitz
Don Imus
James F. Inhofe
Jesse Jackson
Philip E. Johnson
Daryn Kagan
Joe Klein
Phil Kline
Ron Klink
William Kristol
Ken Lay
Joe Lieberman
Rush Limbaugh
Trent Lott
Frank Luntz

"American Fundamentalists"
by Joel Pelletier
(click on image for more info)

Chris Matthews
Mitch McConnell
Stephen C. Meyer (DI)
Judith Miller (ex-NYT)
Zell Miller
Tom Monaghan
Sun Myung Moon
Roy Moore
Dick Morris
Rupert Murdoch
Ralph Nader
John Negroponte
Grover Norquist
Robert Novak
Ted Olson
Elspeth Reeve (TNR)
Bill O'Reilly
Martin Peretz (TNR)
Richard Perle
Ramesh Ponnuru
Ralph Reed
Pat Robertson
Karl Rove
Tim Russert
Rick Santorum
Richard Mellon Scaife
Antonin Scalia
Joe Scarborough
Susan Schmidt (WaPo)
Bill Schneider
Al Sharpton
Ron Silver
John Solomon (WaPo)
Margaret Spellings
Kenneth Starr
Randall Terry
Clarence Thomas
Richard Thompson (TMLC)
Donald Trump
Richard Viguere
Donald Wildmon
Paul Wolfowitz
Bob Woodward (WaPo)
John Yoo
All the fine sites I've
guest-blogged for:

Be sure to visit them all!!
recent listening
Smash Mouth - Summer Girl

Poulenc - Piano Music

Pop Ambient 2007
John Adams
Laurie Anderson
Aphex Twin
Isaac Asimov
Fred Astaire
J.G. Ballard
The Beatles
Busby Berkeley
John Cage
Raymond Chandler
Arthur C. Clarke
Elvis Costello
Richard Dawkins
Daniel C. Dennett
Philip K. Dick
Kevin Drum
Brian Eno
Firesign Theatre
Eliot Gelwan
William Gibson
Philip Glass
David Gordon
Stephen Jay Gould
Dashiell Hammett
"The Harder They Come"
Robert Heinlein
Joseph Heller
Frank Herbert
Douglas Hofstadter
Bill James
Gene Kelly
Stanley Kubrick
Jefferson Airplane
Ursula K. LeGuin
The Marx Brothers
John McPhee
Harry Partch
Michael C. Penta
Monty Python
Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger
"The Prisoner"
"The Red Shoes"
Steve Reich
Terry Riley
Oliver Sacks
Erik Satie
"Singin' in the Rain"
Stephen Sondheim
The Specials
Morton Subotnick
Talking Heads/David Byrne
Tangerine Dream
Hunter S. Thompson
J.R.R. Tolkien
"2001: A Space Odyssey"
Kurt Vonnegut
08/31/2003 - 09/07/2003
09/07/2003 - 09/14/2003
09/14/2003 - 09/21/2003
09/21/2003 - 09/28/2003
09/28/2003 - 10/05/2003
10/05/2003 - 10/12/2003
10/12/2003 - 10/19/2003
10/19/2003 - 10/26/2003
11/02/2003 - 11/09/2003
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12/07/2003 - 12/14/2003
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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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