Friday, December 31, 2004

When did the Right become space cadets?
For years it was an article of faith among the right that they were hard-headed realists while the left was a bunch of wooly, cosmic, anti-science space cadets. Every bit of environmental ludditism, faith-based alternative medicine, counter-cultural anti-modernism, and New Age spiritualism was laid on the doorstep of the Left regardless of how non-political it may have been. At least two generations of science fiction fans grew up reading neo-Heinleinist right-wingers, like Jerry Pournelle, to whom conventions like plot and character were only secondary considerations after bashing liberals. However wrong they might have been over the last thirty years, they were at least consistent in demonizing the Left as anti-science and promoting the Right as pro-science.

When did that change?

In a very short period of time (oh, I'd say no more than the last four years, not that four years is significant in any way), the Right has become ruthlessly anti-science. They have even gone so far as to dump scientists into the cabal of the enemy along with liberal arts professors and Hollywood. You could even say that, to the Bush era Right, intelligence and talent are suspect.

For years, leftists have warned that extremist theocrats are on the verge of taking over the Republican Party. Republicans snorted in response that such an idea was ridiculous; the GOP remained the party of the center. Hidden in such a claim was the admission that they felt secure in their ability to manipulate the loyalty of the far right without making any concessions to them. But who, we on the left asked, was manipulating whom?

In the last few months a surprising number of realistic and secular rightists have felt it necessary to write editorials or take to the airwaves attacking evolution in the name of Intelligent Design Creationism. If the issue was simply climate science--which theatens certain business interests, and can be countered with something calling itself science--this wouldn't be surprising. But attacking all of the biological sciences in the name of mythology is something else.

Why now? Though some of these conservatives have shown tendencies in this direction, others have been thoroughly secular in their careers--till now. Pat Buchanan, Phyllis Schlafly, Michael Medved, Rush Limbaugh and the lesser Limbaugh, David are all lining up to swear fealty to religious obscurantism. Is this base opportunism or a sign that the balance of power within the Republican Party has shifted from the rational, business-oriented right to the superstitious, religious right? Have the last moderates given way to the extremists?

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Just by the numbers
Via Converger's diary at Daily Kos:
  • Number of deaths due to four Florida hurricanes in 2004: 117
  • Number of deaths due to Aceh earthquake and tsunami in 2004: 120,000+
  • Homeless due to Florida hurricanes: 11,000
  • Homeless due to Aceh earthquake/tsunami: 5,000,000
  • US government aid to help Florida hurricane victims: $2.04 billion
  • US government aid to help Aceh earthquake/tsunami victims: $35 million
  • Estimated cost of George Bush's upcoming inaguration celebration, not including security costs: $40 million
  • US government direct cost, per hour, of the US war in Iraq: $9 million
  • US per capita government contribution to help earthquake/tsunami victims: $0.12
  • Jackie Chan's personal contribution to help earthquake/tsunami victims: $200,000

There is, of course, a lot more to be said on the issue af American stinginess (and I'll say some of it). The point here is not whether we are the best or the worst, it's the perception. And the perception is bad.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

We never learn
In 1944, as the allied armies approached the western border of Germany, Hitler and his generals planned a brilliant counterstoke. Following the same path as the 1940 invasion of France, a specially picked reserve army would crash through the allied armies and drive to the North Sea. One side would be destroyed and the other would find itself with impossibly long supply lines and a huge exposed flank. They would have to retreat.

German resources were short. To make the most of them, they needed an intensive commando operation to spead confusion and fear among the allies. Famed commando Otto Skorzeny was assigned to carry out that operation. He planned to take fluent English speakers behind the enemy lines in American uniforms. They would change road signs and spread rumors. Those captured would "confess" to scouting the way for assassination squads hunting the allied leaders. Of course, as a first step, he needed to recruit those fluent English speakers. Field-Marshal Keitel sent a memo to all units of the German Army:
Very Secret: To Divisional and Army Commands Only

Officers and men who speak English are wanted for a special mission. Volunteers selected will join a new unit under the command of Lieut.-Col. Otto Skorzeny, to whose headquarters at Freidenthal application should be made.

Of course, a memo sent out in the hundereds of copies would never be intercepted and read by the allies.

Today the following was reported on CNN.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Wanted: Good doctors to analyze the health of terrorists and foreign leaders. Must pass polygraph and other "security procedures."

To apply, call the CIA.

That's the classified ad running in the current issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, right between an ad calling for an internist in Chicago and another promising "exciting opportunities in geriatric primary care."

Stupidity or misinformation. You be the judge.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Arthur C. Clarke is safe
Sri Lanka's most famous foreign resident is safe. Sir Arthur has a message up on his foundation site.
Thank you for your concern about my safety in the wake of Sunday’s devastating tidal wave.

I am enormously relieved that my family and household have escaped the ravages of the sea that suddenly invaded most parts of coastal Sri Lanka, leaving a trail of destruction.

But many others were not so fortunate. For hundreds of thousands of Sri Lankans and an unknown number of foreign tourists, the day after Christmas turned out to be a living nightmare reminiscent of The Day After Tomorrow.

Among those affected are my staff based at our diving station in Hikkaduwa and holiday bungalow in Kahawa -- both beachfront properties located in areas worst hit. We still don’t know the full extent of damage as both roads and phones have been damaged. Early reports indicate that we have lost most of our diving equipment and boats. Not all our staff members are accounted for -- yet.

This is indeed a disaster of unprecedented magnitude for Sri Lanka which lacks the resources and capacity to cope with the aftermath. We are all trying to contribute to the relief efforts. We shall keep you informed as we learn more about what happened.

Sir Arthur has lived on Sri Lanka since it was Ceylon. He is no mere ex-pat, he contributes generously to his adopted home. He served for 23 years as Chancellor of Moratuwa University (to which he also contrbuted a computer science department). He is now completely confined to a wheelchair due to post polio syndrome and never leaves the country. That seems to suit him fine.

Monday, December 27, 2004

The king is a Fink
RDF, over at Corrente, has a good post up today on the tendency of Bush supporters to cite his muleheaded stubborness as a positive trait that they call consistency. "You might not like what he stands for," they say, approvingly, "but at least you know where he stands." We should admire his indifference to real-life change, and because we know where he stands, vote for him. Bah.

Anyone who has paid attention to politics for any period of time is familiar with this crowd and this character. I think of old Tom Fink in Alaska (yes, that's really his name. He replaced Tony Knowles as mayor of Anchorage when Tony was term-limited out). My feeling about the Fink was that, while it was nice to know where he stood, he stood against everything I cared about. If I stood where he did, I'd have the sense to move a few steps over and scrape that stuff off my shoe.

The author Eugene Weber, author of Varieties of Fascism, wrote in that book:
Sincerity has no intristic value. A sincere fool is still a fool, a sincere Inquisitor still a torturer.

As RDF says, muleheadedness isn't a virtue, it's a character flaw.
Another Bush concession
Josh Marshall warns us that, by their own words, we can expect the administration's war on Social Security to follow the same course as their war on Terrorism (Iraq digression phase).
The president and the White House have now compared their build-up to the Iraq war with their push to phase out Social Security enough times that it seems worth creating a detailed taxonomy of the Bush White House approach to major policy initiatives in order to predict their efforts over the next two years.

The [Wall Street] Journal said last week ...
The president has yet to lay out specific ideas for changing the entitlement program; he and his aides are focused first on selling the idea of change. "For a while, I think it's important for me to continue to work with members of both parties to explain the problem," he said in a Monday news conference.

This would suggest that we're now in the lying and fear-mongering phase of the campaign, which would be followed of course by a later phase in which a specific policy remedy is brought forward, nominally meant to address the fake problem.

I'd like to tie this in to my previous post on the pathology of George W. Bush. I think the WSJ quote is a perfect example of his belief that teamwork means letting you join his team and follow his leadership. Teamwork does not mean listening to you or meeting you halfway. "I think it's important for me to continue to work with members of both parties to explain the problem." Again and again, during the build-up to the Iraq invasion, he would answer charges of unilateralism by saying he had explained his decisions to our European allies. The testiness that often showed through when he made that answer was, I think, a clear indication that he really does not understand the concept of collegiality. The source might be a rich kid sense of entitlement, or something else, but in any case, I really believe that's how his mind works.

The bottom line is, Bush gets an F in "plays well with others."

PS - Mustang Bobby has also been on to the frat boy/bully theme (for example, here and here). As they say, great minds think in the same gutter. At least, I think that's what they say.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

The pathology of George W. Bush
In the ideal spirit of the holiday season, I'd like to take a moment to admit that I have probably misjudged George Bush. I still think he's a shallow, petty, and vindictive wanker, but I no longer think he's as intentionally mean as I once did.


I'll elaborate. There is an old cliché among columnists that you can never go wrong comparing the political scene to school cliques. That might not be entirely true, but it's a helpful way of looking at Bush 43. I often say of Bush that there hasn't been a president since Nixon who has so demanded amateur psychologizing from those who would understand him. What is the deal with his father? Is he trying to redeem his father by completing his unfinished agenda or show him up? What's the deal with his inability to admit to even the smallest mistake? I don't know the answer to all of those questions, but I think I've had an insight into one of his more annoying characteristics.

For the last four years, those of us who are not lock-step supporters of Bush's every utterance have faced the irritation of his rhetoric of inclusion. "I'm a uniter," he says, while his actions are clearly the most divisive in a generation. Is it hypocrisy? Is it pure spin? Is he insane? Coming from his staff, it is calculated hypocrisy and spin. There's no question there. But when it comes out of his mouth, you get the feeling that he really believes it.

After the election, Bush made his famous statements about "political capital," implying that he had a mandate do whatever he damn well pleased. But at the same time he suggested that he was once again reaching out to the Democrats. He offered to let us support his program. "That's awfully damn white of you," I thought. As propaganda framing, that's a fairly unremarkable trap. When congress reconvenes in January and our senators object to his incompetent or extremist appointments, he will look wounded and claim that he tried to reach out an we rejected him. This will be followed by Frist eliminating the filibuster and the Republican caucuses ruling congress as if they were the only party in town. Again, I have no doubt that his staff is operating on a purely political and cynical level. But Bush, does he believe this on some level? I think he does.

The Bush boys are all bullies (at least the older three are; I know nothing of Milton). However, there is more than one kind of bully in this grade school of ours. Our usual motion picture cliché of a bully is a lower class brute. Abused at home he preys on more vulnerable children at school as a way to restore his demolished self-esteem. It won't work; he's on a one-way ticket to a life of crime and a bad end (think Scut Farcus in "A Christmas Story"). Rich kids have another kind of bullying open to them. They can form packs of sycophants and psychologically terrorize social outcasts (think of all the recent alpha girl movies or Draco Malfoy in "Harry Potter").

Whatever home trauma made him a bully, Bush is a bully of the second sort, privileged, arrogant, the leader of a pack of rude sycophants. So how does this make him less mean than I originally thought? When Bush offers to let us support his program, he probably really does think he's making a concession. He could leave us out of the game entirely, but instead he's picking us to play on his softball team. When he was in eighth grade at an expensive private schools, such big man behavior probably was enough to co-opt his critics.

Alcoholics are famously immature, rarely growing beyond adolescent self-absorption. Bush probably doesn't get that we might care more about the actual issues that about being allowed to play on his team.
I'm here for you
My clever wife and I are spending our days off as close to home as possible. I plan to spend my days off doing a little writing (when I'm not sleeping). Not everything I write will make it onto archy, but a significant portion will. So, if you are home, or relaxing somewhere else, and want to see what's happening at your favorite bloggers, but they're not home, check me out. I'll be here for you.

Friday, December 24, 2004

A good news, bad news joke
The good news is that after all of the brou-ha-has for sending troops into combat without proper equipment and failing to lift a personal finger to acknowledge their resulting deaths, Donald Rumsfeld has learned his lesson. The bad news is that the lesson he has learned is never to allow an unscripted moment to exist.

First the AP version:
MOSUL, Iraq -- The questions from the troops for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld were considerably more friendly on his Christmas Eve visit to Iraq than they were on his previous trip to the region a couple of weeks ago.

"How do we win the war in the media?" asked one soldier in Mosul. Another soldier in Tikrit wondered why there is not more coverage of reconstruction efforts going on in the country.

"I guess what's news has to be bad news to get on the press," Rumsfeld responded to the first question - after supposing, with a big grin, "that does not sound like a question that was planted by the press."


"We are a great country and we can benefit from having a free press," said Rumsfeld. "From time to time people can be concerned about it, but look where we've come as a country because we do have a free press."

The New York Times adds this:
"The purpose of the trip is to thank the troops and wish them a merry Christmas," Mr. Rumsfeld told reporters during the 12-hour overnight flight to Iraq from Washington, a trip that aids went to unusual lengths to keep secret. Only a few reporters and one television crew accompanied him.*

According to Armando at Kos, the one television crew was Fox (I believe Armondo is deducing this from the fact that he saw the Q&A with the troops on Fox airport cable news). Let's assume Armondo is correct.

After his last appearance, where troops asked difficult questions, and the following poopstorm over his remarkable insensitivity to the safety of the troops and mourning of their survivors, Sec. Rumsfeld has made a show of talking about the pain he feels for their sacrifices and how sad he is that no one appreciates that. He has followed his public show of sensitive new age guy (SNEG)-ness with a surprise visit to the survivors of a unit decimated by Halliburton contract failures. There, filmed only by a friendly propaganda agency news network, he was asked softball questions that might as well have been written by the administration.

Hmmm. In fact, the whole Q&A session sounds surprisingly like the staged "town hall" campaign events held for Bush all through this year. Okay, it's not surprising. Does anyone doubt that the troops and their questions were screened in advance? My only question is, how much was left to chance? Were they screened by their officers, in the expectation that careerist considerations would be enough to protect the administration from embarrassment, or was the whole thing scripted by the administration?

* This paragraph appears in my print copy of the New York Times story, but does not appear in the current online version.
Let me see if I can get this straight
This is how budget appropriations are managed by the party of fiscal rsponsibility.
BAGHDAD (AFP) - US President George W. Bush is expected to seek authorisation for spending of an additional 80 billion dollars in Iraq, the head of a visiting congressional delegation said.

"In early February, there will be ... a supplemental appropriation in addition to the 2006 budget for defence submitted to Congress," Jim Kolbe, Republican congressman from Arizona, told reporters.


US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who was also in Iraq visiting troops, promised Friday that the extra funds would be spent on equipment for ground forces stationed in the country in 2005 and 2006.


Kolbe was very critical of the pace of spending on reconstruction in Iraq given that 87 billion of supplemental funding for operations and reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan was approved in October 2003 by Congress on the assumption that they were "urgently needed."

Of the estimated 18.3 billion dollars allocated for reconstruction projects in Iraq, through October, roughly one billion dollars had been spent with officials citing security concerns as the main obstacle.

Kolbe also said there has been "little planning" in the way funds are spent as the White House requested earlier this year that more of the money be diverted from infrastructure to the training of Iraqi security forces.

"My subcommittee has raised serious concerns," he said. "All and all, we have been frustrated with the pace of reconstruction."

Kolbe is frustrated because, of the 18 billion that was appropriated for reconstruction in last year's emergency appropriation, only one billion actually was spent on reconstruction and the rest was diverted into military operations. This has him so upset that he's going to give the military 80 billion more. Why exactly? Is he hoping that if he gives them everything they want that they might like him better and let him have some of what was apportioned for his projects in the first place? Why is this man a Republican when he thinks so much like a DLC Democrat? Republicans are supposed to be the party of the stern father, don't they understand that you're not supposed to reward bad behavior?

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

A mystery solved
The men in black (MIB) entered UFO lore in 1956 in a book entitled They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers. The author was one Gray Barker who had been a member of one of the first UFO groups, the rather ambitiously named International Flying Saucer Bureau (IFSB). Though Barker's book dealt with a number of paranormal topics, the largest part of it dealt with his former boss, IFSB founder Albert Bender.

In 1953 the IFSB was about two years old with a few hundred dues paying members (called "investigators") who all received the Bureau's newsletter "Space Review." The group was doing well enough when, in October 1953, Bender stopped publication of Space Review, and dissolved the IFSB. The last issue of "Space Review" gave only this explanation.
STATEMENT OF IMPORTANCE: The mystery of the flying saucers is no longer a mystery. The source is already known, but any information about this is being withheld by order from a higher source. We would like to print the full story in Space Review, but because of the nature of the information we are very sorry that we have been advised in the negative.

According to Barker, the reason Bender had so abruptly ended the group was that three mysterious men in black had visited Bender and warned him off. But before they did, the MIBs were good enough to explain at least part of the true secret of the flying saucers. UFOs, they said, actually come from Antarctica. They have bases in both polar regions and regularly fly between them.

Enough UFO stories end with the craft departing due north or south that the Barker's version of Bender's visitors has been adopted by conspiracy theorists who believe in a decidedly terrestrial origin for saucers (Bender told a different story in his own book in 1963). My personal favorite is Atlanteans from within the hollow earth, but Nazi refugees from super-scientific bases beneath the ice caps has its devotees, too.

They are all wrong. The MIBs are the key. The mundane explanation is that they work for this government or that and are trying to hide the truth about the extraterrestrial origin of UFOs. But that could itself be disinformation. No government has the ability to do what the MIBs do.

Think for a moment about the men in black. They have appeared all over the world. They have a special interest in unidentified flying objects and protecting the polar regions. They seem to actually know what is in the minds of the people they visit. Who has the ability to manage an intelligence network like that? Who has the ability to travel everywhere at any time and even seemingly appear in two places at once? Who has a special interest in protecting the polar regions? Who knows when you are sleeping? Who knows when you are awake? Who knows if you've been good or bad?

I think you know the answer.

Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, and watch your back.
Now look what you've done!
You've gone and hurt his feelings.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, responding to mounting criticism even from fellow Republicans, said on Wednesday he was "truly saddened" anyone could think he was not laboring to protect U.S. combat troops.

First we make the baby Jesus cry by being mean to Bill O'Reilly, now this. I hope you're proud of yourselves.
Awards madness
This is your last chance to nominate for the Koufax Awards; they close at 5:00 ET.

This is your first chnace to nominate for the Perranoski Prizes; they're open for another week.

These awards are only possible because someone puts in a lot of work. While you are making your nominations, be sure to drop something in the hosts' tip jars.
Creative activism
August J. Pollak is right, this is brilliant*.
It's an ingenious idea. Create a no-win situation for anti-choice protesters — the more picketers who demonstrate outside a Planned Parenthood clinic, the more donations the Planned Parenthood clinic receives.

A number of Planned Parenthood affiliates have created different versions of this scenario. Here's how it works at Planned Parenthood of Central Texas (PPCT) in Waco, where the Pledge-a-Picket program is going strong: Each time a protester shows up at the clinic, a donation is made to PPCT. This campaign makes lemonade out of lemons by allowing Planned Parenthood supporters to pledge between 25 cents and one dollar per protester.


Once a week, PPCT puts a sign outside its clinic that says, "Even Our Protesters Support Planned Parenthood." To date, the Pledge-a-Picket program has raised $18,000 for PPCT. While not a significant chunk of its overall revenues, Pledge-a-Picket contributes greatly to PPCT's patient assistance fund, which helps clients who don't have resources get the care they need.

Since Pledge-a-Picket was launched in January 2002 the number of supporters who are eager to do something positive for PPCT has increased. A sign indicating the amount of money raised is continually updated, so protesters know how much money they are making for the affiliate every time they show up, some with children who are also counted.

I've heard people idly talk about programs like this in the past, but this is the first I've heard of someone getting one up and running.

The one credit that I've always had to give anti-abortion protestors is that they understand the business of protesting. Along with the usual reasons for protesting--spreading information and rallying the faithful--the anti-abortion crowd uses their protests to break the morale of the other side and to give the faithful a sense of constructive participation. Every day clinic workers show up for work to be insulted and accused of the most horrible crimes. Some people can be motivated by their own defiance in the face of visible opposition, but sooner or later it's going to wear on their nerves. Meanwhile, the protestors feel like they're accomplishing something just by showing up. Physically shutting down the baby-killing mills is much more motivating than showing up at headquarters to lick envelopes and phone canvas.

A program like this changes the balance of power. It takes some of the purpose away from the protestors. It has a martial arts elegance about it. It takes their greatest strengths--persistence and numbers--and uses them against them. Imagine a clinic employee going out each day to make a big production out of counting the protestors ("did I miss anyone?") and updating the sign. When the clinic employees show up for work, instead of gritting their teeth and running a gauntlet, they can thank the protestors for their support (then grit their teeth and run the gauntlet).

Psychological warfare is all about morale.

* I might even go so far as to say "fucking brilliant," but I won't, because my Mom is probably reading this.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Good news
If politcs has you down (and really, who isn't in that condition), here's something to look forward to in the coming year.
The sixth Harry Potter book will hit the shops on 16 July next year, it has been announced.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince will be published simultaneously in the UK, the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.


Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince takes up the story of Harry Potter's sixth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry as Lord Voldemort grows stronger.

Rowling has already revealed that the Half-Blood Prince is neither Harry nor Voldemort.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Don't insult us
Many in the Blogistans (both Right and Left) despise the professional news media pundits. We call them whores and sneer at columns that too easily fit established formulae. Like many political bloggers, I'm a media watcher. I, too, have read bad columns and had the feeling of, "I can do that." But I recognize that I'm not doing that, and they are.

I say that because I think Kos writer, Hunter, is going too far when he or she offers a write-alike semi-contest.
One of the most important qualifications for being a big-time media pundit is the use of metaphor and her cheaper, whorish cousin, simile. No matter how stale, muleheaded, or just plain wrong your opinion is, you too can get a syndicated column in a major paper or pen for a top-notch weekly rag, if you are able to master the art of couching your baseless hypotheses with some halfway decent imagery. First, it allows you to describe your implausible notions in a friendlier, easy-to-digest way. Second, it allows you to pad your stuff out in order to make the word count. Editors are sticklers for that sort of thing.

Yes, you too can be a Peggy Noonan, David Brooks, or, provided you have sold your soul to Satan in exchange for him helping you move an old couch, Ann Coulter. Use this space to practice your own clever political imagery. Especially good contributions will receive accolades, mojo, and possibly a spot on the New York Times editorial page -- we hear there's an opening.

This is exactly the same snobbery that is expressed by bourgeois (usually conservative) viewers of modern expressionist and abstract art, "my kid could do that." In art, the logical response is that "your kid didn't do it on a canvas, and you didn't respect your kid's talent until someone else was making vast amounts of money at the same thing."

And so it is with writing. How many of us can produce a concise, if unoriginal, 750 to 900 word essay, twice a week, without fail, 52 weeks out of the year? Okay, how many of us can convince someone of our ability and sell those essays in advance? That last clause is the key.

When you make it sound easy, when you say "we could all be successes, if we wanted," you flatter our egos while insulting our real-life experiences. I'm a smart guy who graduated from college over a quarter century ago. I'm a pretty good writer. I'm also a crappy self-promoter and salesman. I mean that. I'm really awful at it.

In the mid-eighties, I had a minimum-wage retail job in a book store in Alaska. One of my drinking buddies was an oil company executive. Quite often, when we were well into our cups, on his tab, he would proclaim his admiration for my integrity and fortitude in not having sold out. My frustrated response was that no one ever offered to buy me. He got a good laugh out of that; I got a few free drinks on his tab. At the end of the night, he went back to his six-figure job at the oil company and I went back to my minimum-wage job punching a cash register at the book store.

If I had been offered his job and turned it down for the book store job, I might have had the right to accept his respect. I knew that I did not, and so I do not respect those years in my life. My crappy job was the best I could do. Now I have a blog. My writing might be as good as that of a syndicated six-figure columnist, but they have the job and I don't. Writing is the same as any other job. The skill to do the job is a very small part of the business. The skill to get the job is the key. Is it fair? No. Is it real? Yes.

Reach into Blogistan and try to find who has the best chance of getting a paying gig as a printed commenter, or even commentator, despite the fact that commentator isn't even a real word. Is it the best writer? Is it the writer with the best exposure? Does Hunter have a better chance of an op-ed gig at Kos or on his or her own? Do I?

My point is not that the paid commentariat are that great, it's that they are the best we have that can meet all of the qualifications of the job. The qualifications are that the writer be able to write and sell his or her self as a writer. I admit that I only have one of those skills. I resent anyone who suggests that doing more--getting the actual big paying jobs--is a simple thing, that any fool could do it.

It's enough to say that I'm a failure within my realm. To draw a bigger realm and say that I'm a failure within that too, that's too much. We might not like what the professional commenting class say, but don't compare our limited amateur space to their larger professional space. When you despise them, what are you saying about those of us who have failed to be them? For god's sake, allow us some dignity in our small space.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Democrat on Democrat violence
I suppose by now you've all seen the letter from Mel Giles, an advocate for victims of domestic abuse, that Michael Moore published on his site. I just Googled the letter and came up with 199 hits for it. Giles sees parallels between the people she works with and the reaction of certain Democrats to the election. Though she makes her point a little melodramatically, the point is a good one. We should pay attention.
Listen as Donna [Brazille] and Nancy Pelosi and Senator Charles Schumer take to the airwaves saying that they have to go back to the drawing board and learn from their mistakes and try to be better, more likable, more appealing, have a stronger message, speak to morality. Watch them awkwardly quote the bible, trying to speak the ‘new’ language of America. Surf the blogs, and read the comments of dismayed, discombobulated, confused individuals trying to figure out what they did wrong. Hear the cacophony of voices, crying out, "Why did they beat me?"


As victims we can't stop asking ourselves what we did wrong. We can't seem to grasp that they will keep hitting us and beating us as long as we keep sticking around and asking ourselves what we are doing to deserve the beating.

It's not just the Democrats who are falling into this role, the Republican leadership, winger pundits, and self-proclaimed speakers for the radical religious right have all enthusiastically embraced their role in this sick relationship.
Listen to George Bush say that the will of God excuses his behavior. Listen, as he refuses to take responsibility, or express remorse, or even once, admit a mistake. Watch him strut, and tell us that he will only work with those who agree with him, and that each of us is only allowed one question (soon, it will be none at all; abusers hit hard when questioned; the press corps can tell you that). See him surround himself with only those who pledge oaths of allegiance. Hear him tell us that if we will only listen and do as he says and agree with his every utterance, all will go well for us (it won't; we will never be worthy).

Let me pause here to modify Giles' metaphor. self-blame isn't the only characteristic of victims of abuse. The abused often become abusers. This is the basic principle of bullying, pass the pain on down the food chain. The boss humiliates Dad, Dad pushes Mom around, Mom yells at the son, and the son goes to school and beats up on a nerd.

The Democratic party has its mid-level bullies. Al From, CEO of the Democratic Leadership Council, demanding that the party denounce and purge Michael Moore and all two million MoveOn members is no different than the bullied Dad telling the abused Mom who her friends can be.

The truely bizzare thing about the DLC and it's friends, is that they not only have the wrong position in this fight, it's that they want to fight the wrong fight. Most Democrats are not unhappy with what the Party stands for. There is no big ideological battle going on in the Party, even though the DLC wants one and the mainstream press wants to cover the post election debates as if that was the story. The main divide within the Party is over tactics. Should we appease the Republicans or confront them? Should we try to limit the damage of their legislation through quiet compromise or try to lead public opinion through presenting strong alternatives? Should we concentrate on capturing the White House in the expectation that presidential coattails will help us elsewhere on the ticket or should we concentrate on strengthening local and state parties in the expectation that they will lift our presidential candidate into the White House? (The answer to all three questions is B.)

The corporatists and shrill moralists who scold the Party and tell us we need to be more like Republicans if we are ever to be relevant are showing contempt for the 57 million people who voted for the Democratic Party and what it stands for today. I've said before that this is a bad strategy. Why do we think people will vote for fake Republicans when they can have real ones? Why would the 57 million voters who like what the existing Democratic Party stands for, keep voting for us if we stop standing for that? They show contempt for our beliefs and for us if the think we will just go along. The Democrats who want to become Republicans Lite have become the abusers in saying to the Democratic voters "you’ll stay with us because you don’t have anywhere to go, bitch." Meanwhile, the Greens are running a nice little battered voters' shelter…
I haven't been sleeping that well lately
The election is past, but the polling companies still need to make a living. Gallup just did a poll on sleep, which went out under a cover letter with this summary:
Overall, Americans average about seven hours of sleep a night, little changed over the past decade. But more people today say they don't get enough sleep than said that a decade and a half ago.

Well, of course they say they’re not getting enough sleep. They haven’t had enough sleep in fifteen years and it’s starting to tell.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

If this were an episode of "Murder, She Wrote"
Wouldn't the fact that no one can find the nanny indicate that she had been most foully done away with? So who's the killer? It's never the first person accused, Jessica Fletcher's cute nephew Bernie Kerik. It's never the really obvious guy, Bernie's shady friend Rudy Giuliani. So who has a motive for getting rid of the nanny and framing Kerik? It must be Bernie's bitter ex-lover, Judith Regan (or Dick Cheney, just 'cause he's evil). Okay, now we can turn the channel and watch something more interesting, like a "Law and Order" rerun.
The Canadians are laughing at us
Stephan Notley can be so cruel.
Every since the US election I've just been wondering. Now that the Bushites have their "mandate", which of their criminally foolish ambitions were they gonna go after first? Was it gonna be an invasion of Iran or Syria, in open defiance of the fact that they don't have the necessary troops and equipment to do it? Or would they plow ahead domestically with their privatize-Social Security/bankrupt-America plan in plain defiance of economic logic? Looks like it's door #2, which makes sense since it doesn't require coming up with 100,000 new soldiers. When world confidence in America, its leadership and its dollar is close to an all-time low, what could be better than borrowing $2 trillion to finance a scheme to reroute Social Security money through the financial industry? Brilliant, I say! Brilliant!

And we gotta put up with four years of this...
Random thoughts on Bernard's problems
Bernard Kerik's meltdown does mean more to me than just an excuse to use the word schadenfreude -- though that in itself is reason for celebration. For once, it's nice to be able to have a guilt-free gloat over Bush's problems. Most of Bush's policy disasters and other miserable failures leave innocent people dead or devastated. It's hard to celebrate that. For once, all he did was publicly embarrass himself and his associates. That, we can enjoy. And we manage to dispose of one of his appointments without the Senate Democrats actually using any political capital. What's not to enjoy?

The nanny story about his fall is a good, but I suspect it's a decoy. Even though the angle of having it happen to the proposed head of Immigration and Naturalization and chief border cop is a delicious irony, I suspect it is a decoy because there are so many worse facts about him coming to light. Look at what's come to light in just the last few days. Kerik is a possibly mob-tied cop who misuses city resources and surrounds himself with corrupt officials; a possible bigamist and adulterer who abandoned his illegitimate child overseas; a possible coward who left his job in Iraq unfinished; and he forgot to pay Social Security taxes for his kids' nanny.

I suspect that the Bush spin team picked the nanny story hoping the press would lose interest and go interview some mall Santas for seasonal color stories. We have seen appointees fall because of illegal nannies; that makes it old news and easily forgettable. Or maybe they really didn't think the other things in his record were that serious.

Well, the shine is off St. Giuliani. Appointing Kerik was his idea. Humiliation has fallen on the administration thanks to him. It's a good thing Bush is a nice Christian man who doesn't hold grudges or act out of pride. With Giuliani feeling so bad, I'm sure Bush will want to forgive and comfort him. (snort) I've never liked Giuliani. I agree that he acted magnificently on 9/11, but I don't think that one day or week makes up for the rest of his career. Now that some have started to toss his name around as a possible presidential contender in '08, I'm glad to see a little reality dim his saintly glow.

This also takes a little of the shine off Alberto "the Geneva Conventions don't apply to us" Gonzales. Gonzales, the prospective head of the Justice Department and by extension the FBI, had the task of investigating Kerik. He failed spectacularly at this task, and his defense seems to be that he asked Kerik and Kerik didn't tell him. Most of these revelations were not secret. The New York area press has covered Kerik for years. Gonzales had the entire FBI to help in the vetting process and managed to miss things that a handful of reporters and bloggers were able to discover in a few hours of Googling. Note, I'm not blaming the FBI (though I'm sure the administration will); I blame Gonzales' leadership of the process. I don't expect that this will be enough to derail his nomination, but I do hope it will embolden the Senate Democrats to ask some difficult questions during the rubberstamping process.

In a way, it's a shame this story broke now, when so many people are preoccupied with the season. This should be one of the biggest stories of the year, if not for its actual relavance to our lives, then for its sheer entertainment value. Sex, arrogant politicians, the mob, sweaty foreign locales, terrorism; it has movie of the week written all over it. I gotta say, I'm enjoying this.

Update: Josh Marshall suggests the nanny might not even have existed. If true, this more or less proves my suspicion that the whole nanny business was smoke and mirrors to distract us from the much more serious skeletons in Kerik's closet.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Isn't this joke getting old
Star wars has failed yet again.
The first test in nearly two years of a multibillion-dollar U.S. anti-missile shield failed on Wednesday when the interceptor missile shut down as it prepared to launch in the central Pacific, the Pentagon said.

About 16 minutes earlier, a target missile carrying a mock warhead had been successfully fired from Kodiak Island, Alaska, according to a statement from the Missile Defense Agency.

The aborted $85 million test appeared likely to set back plans for activation of a rudimentary bulwark against long-range ballistic missiles that could be fired by countries like North Korea.

There you have it. We are now totally at the mercy of Alaska. I'm sure Gov. Murkowski will be applying to join the Axis of Evil any day now.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Great moments in headline writing
This has been on AOL for hours.

If he was a Democrat, you can be sure the wingnuts would have something to say about him being married to an axe murderer.
The 2004 Koufax Awards
The nominations for the 2004 Koufax Awards are now open over at Wampum.
The Koufax Awards are named for Sandy Koufax, one of the greatest left handed pitchers of all time. They are intended to honor the best of the left of blogtopia. At its core, the Koufax Awards are meant to be an opportunity to say nice things about your favorite bloggers and to provide a bit of recognition for the folks who provide us with information, insight, and entertainment usually for little or no renumeration. The awards are supposed to be fun for us and fun for you.


[There are] twelve categories. If you think we should add another or restore one that has been eliminated, don't be shy, just leave a comment and we will consider it.

This is our chance to lobby for a Catblogging category. Go for it! And while you're there, if anyone is inclined to nominate a certain poetic cockroach themed blog for "Most Deserving of Wider Recognition," the proprietor of said blog would be most grateful and humbly honored. If you don't feel like it, I'll do it myself.
Dear Googlers
For the last week or so I have been getting hits from searchers using the terms "flamboyant fundamentalist WWI era." I don't think I've written about either of these, but the person you are looking for is either Billy Sunday or Aimee Semple MacPherson. Both have fascinating stories that are worth looking at. Maybe I'll write about them someday. So, why are you looking?

Saturday, December 11, 2004

The Fundamentals
That ol' debil killer Farmer has a few serious words to say about Fundamentalism and Christ-hating liberals. It's a good post, with good background on the origins of Fundamentalism in American Protestantism. I started to write a comment to the post containing my two cents worth, but it grew into about seventeen cents worth before I even had a word on screen, so I'm over here having my say.

You really should go read the Farmer's post and the post that led to that post. I'll wait here while you go.

Muzakized bosa nova tunes

Back already?

I'm not sure you all really went away, so I'm going to summarize the Farmer. The name Fundamentalist is based on a group of conservative Protestants who didn't like the liberalizing trends in progressive era Protestantism at the beginning of the last century. This being the era of manifestos (or manifesti), they wrote a manifesto called "The Fundamentals."

Religion, in general, draws its authenticity from the authority of the godhead and from its antiquity. It has always been such, therefore it is correct. Protestantism claimed to be a return to the authentic earlier religion from which Catholicism had diverged. When a subsection of Protestantism no longer agreed with the orthodox practice they claimed their form was a return to the fundamentals.

In the quarter century leading up to World War One, the trends that they objected to were modern secular intellectual movements as embodied in "higher criticism" of biblical texts (that is, treating the Bible as a normal historical document subject to contextualization) and secular science, especially old earth geology and evolutionary biology.

At this point, I need to add something to the Farmer's narrative. During the Progressive era, the dissidents in American Protestantism also objected to the social gospel of secular good works. Mainstream Protestantism, in those days, was involved in actively promoting secular liberal social programs. The dissident faction though the church should focus its attention on purifying the saved, not on helping the impure. The Fundamentalists continue to hold this exclusive view of religion to this day.

The faction that adhered to the Fundamentalist manifesto withdrew from secular politics from World War One 'til the end of the 1960's. At that point they suddenly re-entered politics to oppose the cultural revolution of the day. They were absorbed into the rightward swing of the Republican Party and have remained there 'til this day.

At this point, I need to depart from the Farmer's historical narrative again. Since the anti-liberal fundamentalists re-entered politics in the 1960s, they have tried to appropriate the word "Christian" as their exclusive property. I've said this many times. In owning the word, they not only are able to claim that any criticism of them is an assault on American Christianity in general, they are able to divide non-fundamentalist Christianity into helpless factions. This is the reason the Farmer must defend his or her self from our natural allies when the Farmer is only criticizing that small minority of American Protestant Christianity that is the radical religious right. (Although I'm tempted to call them the RRR for convenience sake, I'm sure they would claim I'm comparing them to the KKK and by extension calling all American Christians vile racists. I have no intention of doing that; I only think the radical right are vile racists. So there.)

I think this is the problem the liberal/Democratic/blogger left has with religion. It's not that we are anti-religious or anti-Christian; it's that the right has succeeded in portraying everything we say as such. The Farmer made an honest comment about fundamentalist loonies and good liberal Protestants think he is attacking Christianity in general.

This is a painful indicator of how successful the right has been in fragmenting the left over the last 30 years. We should not have to apologize to our allies for criticizing our enemies. The religious right does not own Christianity. They do not own religion. They do not own values. They are an extremist minority that wants to delegitimize anyone who does not endorse their radical agenda. As far as they are able to divide us, they have succeeded.
O'erweening ambition
Lord Acton wasn't the first person to notice the corrupting property of increased power, but he did phrase in an eloquent and memorable way. Unfortunately, he never gave us as pithy a phrase for the tendency of power to make people stupider than furniture. Pity. It would have made a nice headline for this story.

Someone somewhere is demanding that Michael Powell do something about that quadrennial source of filth that is the Olympics.
In response to one or more indecency complaints, the Federal Communications Commission has asked NBC to send it tapes of its coverage of the Summer Olympics Opening Ceremonies in Athens, the network confirmed late yesterday.

Ironically, the night before, NBC's Summer Games coverage was named the family-friendliest special of 2004 during WB's broadcast of the sixth annual Family Television Awards.

I can't say for sure that the source of this complaint is the radical clerics of the religious right; the FCC won't release that information. But the overwhelming odds are that it is. According to MediaWeek, over 99% of indecency complains received by the FCC come from just one group, Brent Bozell's Parents Television Council. In 2000 and 2001, the FCC received fewer than 350 complaints per year. Last year, that was up to 240,000 thanks to organized campaigns by Bozell's group. By the end of November, they were up to 1,068,767 complaints (half of which were over Janet Jackson's right breast).
The prominent role played by the PTC has raised concerns among critics of the FCC's crackdown on indecency. "It means that really a tiny minority with a very focused political agenda is trying to censor American television and radio," said Jonathan Rintels, president and executive director of the Center for Creative Voices in Media, an artists' advocacy group.

PTC officials disagree.

"I wish we had that much power," said Lara Mahaney, spokeswoman for the Los Angeles-based group.

Savor that quote. It's an open admission that their goal is to censor every American's media exposure. Good thing they're conservatives and not big-government, nanny-state, elitist liberals who think they know what's best for people.

Most of those numbers and ambition were in place before the election, which, the media informs them, was won for Bush by their turnout and "values." Many self-proclaimed spokesmen for the radical religious right have openly announced their intention to demand payback from the GOP for their support.

This brings us back to the silly Olympics complaint. Is this the religious right already overreaching? As I said, we can't know for sure, but it looks that way. Michael Powell, chairman of the FCC, made it perfectly plain in The New York Times a few weeks ago that he is perfectly willing to let groups like Bozell's drive the agenda for his agency.
But we are not the federal Bureau of Indecency. We do not watch or listen to programs hoping to catch purveyors of dirty broadcasts. Instead, we rely on public complaints to point out potentially indecent shows. Advocacy groups do generate many complaints, as our critics note, but that's not unusual in today's Internet world. We are very familiar with organized protests when it comes to media issues, but that fact does not minimize the merits of the groups' concerns.

This will get sillier and uglier before it gets better. I have mixed feelings about how to deal with this. It is a serious issue that we need to keep tabs on.

Do we sit back and let them have enough rope to hang themselves, counting on there silliness to make them a focus of contempt and derision? That runs the danger of them not being laughed at and actually carrying out their agenda before anyone notices that it has happened. Do we lead the ridicule? That course runs the risk of blowback when the thin-skinned inhabitants of the interior states decide we are laughing at them and their religion, godless, bicoastal elitists that we are. Do we raise a loud warning and risk being seen humorless crybabies who see a fascist behind every bush? Is a more subtle approach possible, one that takes the issue of censorship seriously and that focuses attention on the censorers and not on us?


Friday, December 10, 2004

Rush didn't get the memo...
...or maybe he did. When Bush said he did not blame the soldiers for complaining about being sent into combat with out adequate equipment, did he mean no one should blame the soldiers or was he ordering his proxies into action (wink-wink)? Bryant at Make Me a Commentator caught Rush Limbaugh blaming the troops.
And what struck me odd about this was those of us who have employees, we all have meetings with them and we all let them blow off steam, but we do it in private. . . . You just don't see that kind of near insubordination among rank and file military to the secretary of defense.

Even Rush can't go all out against the troops. Fortunately, he found a way to blame this all on a liberal. Matt Drudge is pushing an unsourced e-mail that proves a reporter fed the question to Spfc. Wilson. You see, all reporters are liberals, and all liberals hate America, so the question could not have been valid in any way. It was a liberal plot to hurt America.

Meanwhile, Pig Edward says all that really needs to be said about the whole business.
I don't care who it is, Republican, Democrat, Libertarian or Constitution Party in the White House; no Defense Secretary and certainly no President sends our troops into harms' way without the best weaponry and armor available. Period. And if I'm the President, the day I hear my Defense Secretary effectively say to the troops "I don't care if you're dying and losing limbs and suffering brain injuries because we didn't give you adequate armor to do the job" is the day I hold a press conference and fire his ass in front of the entire world.

Of course he's a gutless, America-hating liberal who’s not serious about our defense (just like Bryant, the reporter, and me) so you probably shouldn't listen to him.
She gets it
Sarah Posner at Gadflyer has an epiphany about the Bush leadership style.
I think I finally understand Bush's "leadership style" that proved so popular with so many Americans. He leads by platitude, not by example. Saying the right thing is so much easier than doing the right thing. Which is a very sorry statement indeed about the world's leading exporter of democracy.

A nd I got an excuse to use the word "epiphany," a fine word that we godless secularists don't get to use nearly enough.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Let them eat spin
American soldiers are being maimed and killed from being sent into combat with insufficient equipment. This week, Rumsfeld went on one of his famous charm offensives to reassure the troops.
One soldier, identified by The Associated Press as Army Spc. Thomas Wilson of the 278th Regimental Combat Team, a Tennessee National Guard outfit, asked Rumsfeld why more military combat vehicles were not reinforced for battle conditions.

"Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to uparmor our vehicles?" Wilson asked.


"It's essentially a matter of physics, not a matter of money," Rumsfeld said. "It's a matter of production and the capability of doing it."


"As you know, you have to go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you want," Rumsfeld said.

He added, "You can have all the armor in the world on a tank, and it can [still] be blown up."

The troops were not reassured, neither were their families, and neither were the American people.
The latest complaints put the administration further on the defensive. Bush had rejected charges from Democratic challenger Sen. John Kerry in the campaign for last month's election that military forces in Iraq did not have sufficient protection.


California Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic Leader in the House of Representatives, said Rumsfeld should be fired.

She said the Iraq war "began 21 months ago and Secretary Rumsfeld has still not done what is necessary, which is his highest duty, to protect our troops to the greatest degree possible. No CEO in America would retain a manager with so clear a record of failure and neither should President Bush."

It doesn't help that Rumsfeld was lying -- about the availability of armor, that is; he was telling the truth about getting blown up.
Armor Holdings Inc., the sole supplier of protective plates for the Humvee military vehicles used in Iraq, said it could increase output by as much as 22 percent per month with no investment and is awaiting an order from the Army.


Jacksonville, Florida-based Armor Holdings last month told the Army it could add armor to as many as 550 of the trucks a month, up from 450 vehicles now, Robert Mecredy, president of the company's aerospace and defense group said in a telephone interview today.

"We're prepared to build 50 to 100 vehicles more per month," Mecredy said in the interview. "I've told the customer that and I stand ready to do that."

Faced with a PR meltdown, President Bush, leapt into action.
President Bush said on Thursday U.S. troop concerns about inadequate equipment for Iraq combat are being addressed and he did not blame soldiers for raising the issue with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Why is Bush's first thought to reassure us that they're not going to blame the soldiers? For what would they blame them? For embarassing the administration by pointing out uncomfortable truths? For contradicting their commander-in-chief, who assures us that not only is everything going swimmingly, but that he gives the boys and girls in the field all the support they ask for (at least when those bad Democrats let him)? For implying that mistakes might have been made under the watch of the president who can't think of any mistakes he's made in the last four years? Perhaps Bush needs reassure us that he's not going to blame the soldiers because his first thought is to blame the soldiers.

Considering the administration's relationship with truth and constructive criticism, we can safely assume that Spc. Thomas Wilson will be scrubbing latrines for the rest of his military career.
Official flower
Last Sunday, I watched 60 Minutes. One of the segments dealt with Adult Attention Deficit Disorder. That's one of those nasty, socially stigmatizing conditions. Too many people don't take such problems seriously, instead dismissing them as fads. I thought, we should do something for the AADD sufferers. Maybe an official flower would help* (instead of yet another colored ribbon). I nominate the impatiens.

* Then again, maybe it won't.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Your security dollars at work
Josh Marshall has a long exerpt on from an article on the many cases of overbilling and corruption in the reconstruction of Iraq. Some of the outrages will be familiar and some will be new. This one opened my eyes for reasons probably not intended by the good Mr. Marshall.
In another example, a military assistant to a Pentagon employee gambled away part of a $40,000 grant issued to help coach an Iraqi sports team, the report found.

Among the millions of unemployed adults in Iraq, is there really no one who can coach a team? It's bad enough that the contractor embezzeled the money, but why was this contract given in the first place? I suppose the phrase "assistant to a Pentagon employee" indicates another tier of corruption -- kickbacks, office nepotism, or somesuch. That too should be investigated, but I really want to know why our money was being wasted in this way.
Not always nice
I'm a nice guy, sometimes painfully so. Painful for me, not for you. That's why when I wrote my post the other day about being clear who we are in political discussions, I made sure to include "people of good will" as an important category. At one time or another I'm a part of all four of the categories I discussed.

One part of me really wants to end the fratricidal level of confrontation in out political culture. That's more than me being nice; that's also me being practical. We have reached the point where things that should not be partisan become partisan out of spite. If they are for something, then we are against it. How often do wingnut writiers say their readers should do something just to bug the Liberals? How often do we say that about them? Is there anyone on our side that hasn't chuckled at the thought of Hillary '08 just to watch Rush's head explode, even if most of us think Hillary would make a disastrous candidate? Okay, that John wants to heal the body politic because it's what's best for America in the long run.

But there is another John that wants to squash the New Republicans like the bugs they are. I tell myself that getting them out of the game and letting the old-style conservatives take back the GOP is a necessary prerequisite for the healing -- and that's true -- but a peaceful transfer of power isn't enough. I want them humiliated. Ezra over at Pandagon speaks for that John.
[I want to make] sure that every infuriating policy proposal and absurd pork project gets stuffed so far down the GOP's throat that it bursts out, Alien-like, onto the floor in a mass of goo and gore, leaving the wrecked husk of conservatism to topple over, a grotesque mass of corporate cronyism and sickening power-lust.

Let me restate, I thinks getting the public to see the New Republicans for what they really are is an important part of our national healing. A solid national rejection of them is certainly necessary to get the rest of the world to even think of trusting us again. But deep down inside, there is a side of me that just wants to make Karl Rove cry.

Deep inside every nice guy is a vindictive bastard trying to break free. Fear us.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Indicators of age
Language and terminology has always been an important indicator in society. In most cultures there are special vocabularies that reveal a user's class, religion, occupation, region of origin, and, in the last century or so, age. I just realized that I still call plain, unlined, white, letter-sized paper "typing paper." This, even though it's been a dozen years or more since I last used a typewriter. Sometimes I miss the ding and the rough physicality of smacking the carriage return on a non-electric typewriter.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

I don't want to talk about it
"Get comfortable talking about your faith," says Arkansas Senator Blanche Lincoln, among others. This is a popular opinion among many of those giving advice to the Democratic Party on how to return from the wilderness. It's also bad advice. Fortunately there are numerous others giving better advice.

The essence of this bad advice is that we need to act more like Republicans in order to get elected, because Republicans are what people want. The assumption behind this bad advice is that people who live in the smugly-named heartland are dumb as posts and will be fooled into voting for us if we disguise ourselves. I'm inclined to give them more credit than that. I think that, if presented with a choice between real Republicans and fake Republicans, most of them will pick the real Republicans.

Besides, if the Democratic Party goes any further right, I, and many like me, will stop supporting the party. As Nicholas von Hoffman points out, Sen. Lincoln's message is "in effect, that if you don’t have faith, you have no place in the public life of the nation." Why would a secular person like myself vote for a party that says, thanks for the votes now shut up and go away? If we are treated like the GOP treats Log Cabin Republicans I think most liberal and secular Democrats have enough self-respect to go find better friends.

As an organized movement, the drag-the-Democrats-to-the-right movement has been around since the mid-eighties. Its primary voice has been the Democratic Leadership Conference. Under Bill Clinton, the DLC rose to the top in the Democratic Party. Inder their direction we lost control of the House, the Senate, most of the state houses, and most of the governor's mansions. In fact, most of Bill Clinton's success is due to Clinton's own political instincts and not to the program of the DLC. With a rtecord like that, why on earth should we listen to those losers now?

The red states have been encouraged by the Republican Party to practice a particularly unattractive and hypocritical form of victimization politics. They have been told that Democrats and bi-coastal elites look down their noses at heartland salt of the earth types. Who are the sneering liberal Democrats who have so victimized the heartland and made them hate the coasts? Republican leaders demonize entire states and drum them out of the union. They sneer at Taxechutsetts and California and set them up as straw man caricatures opposed to the real America. Who are the Democrats who use those same terms of contempt for Kansas and Virginia, for Christianity and farm values? Was it John Kerry? Was it Bill Clinton? I know, it must have been that Christ hating bastard Jimmy Carter?

Somehow, we come to believe that it our fault the middle of the country hates us. We have accepted the Republican premises that we are hateful, unreligious snobs. We want to run out and apologize and hope that the heartland and the Republicans will like us if we act more like them.

To stick with the religious example: it will surprise many to discover that there are many in the North and on the coasts that are deeply and sincerely religious. Many are liberals. Liberal religious activism has a rich and honorable history in this country from abolition to civil rights and beyond. The religious left should not imitate the religious right. They should proudly be who they are. Northern politicians should not imitate the manners of Southern politicians in their religion. The South has a heritage of public religion. Good for them, but that isn't the only legitimate form of religious practice. The North and Midwest have a tradition of private religion. For us, wearing religion on your sleeve and shouting it from the rooftops is vain, vulgar, and prideful. It's on a par with talking about how much money you make. Real religion, to us, is quiet and personal. When Northerner tries to act like a Southerner, he usually just embarrasses himself and insults real Southerners.

To gain in the red states, Democrats do not need to turn into Southern Republican clones. We need clear policies that address the needs of rural economies. We need to go to red states and listen. We need to empower the Democrats already on the ground in those states. We need to act like a real opposition party and highlight the failure of the Republican majority to deliver to those states. Liberals, Democratic or not, also need to listen to the red states. We have a lot to offer them, but we're doing a terrible job of communicating with them. Bloggers, as a grassroots information network, can be of help to both the Democratic Party and the liberal cause in reconnecting with the middle of the country. But we won't do it by pretending to be Republicans.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Suitable for Americans and small children
Here is another fine and embarrassing example of self-censorship at work.
US distributors of the film Merchant of Venice, which premiered in London this week, have asked the director to cut out a background fresco by a Venetian old master so it is fit for American television viewers.


Distributors regularly ask for cuts in films so that they can be shown on US television and by airlines. The request to "paint-box the wallpaper" -- cover over the fresco -- was contained in a letter from the US distributors, Sony, to Michael Radford.


[A]ccording to Mr Radford, there was "a very curious request which said 'Could you please paint-box out the wallpaper?'. I said wallpaper, what wallpaper? This is the 16th century, people didn't have wall-paper."

When he examined the scenes, he realised the letter was referring to frescoes by Paolo Veronese, the acclaimed Venetian 16th-century artist, which, when examined closely, showed a naked cupid.

"A billion dollars worth of Veronese great master's frescoes they want paint-boxed out because of this cupid's willy. It is absolutely absurd," he said.

The director said he would resist the effort to cut out the fresco...

Do you get the feeling the writer was sneering when he wrote the phrase "fit for American television viewers"? Is "suitable for Americans" about to become a term of derision around the world in the same way "good enough for government work" is among those very Americans. The fear of Michael Powell is making us a laughing stock.

Am I exaggerating when I say we now have a system of self-censorship based on fear? Look at what FCC Chairman Michael Powell says ton the op-ed page of the New York Times:
The agency has increased penalties significantly, recognizing that they must be large enough for billion-dollar media companies to stop treating fines as a minor cost of doing business.

Some have also questioned why the commission is unwilling to issue rulings before a broadcast, as was the case with the recent network showing of "Saving Private Ryan," a film the commission had previously held was not indecent. While ABC and its affiliates understandably would have liked to know the program was in bounds before proceeding, the precedent of submitting programming or scripts for government review borders dangerously on censorship. The Communications Act expressly forbids the F.C.C. from banning a program before broadcast, and any such effort might very well run afoul of the First Amendment. This is a step I do not want to take.

If a broadcaster crosses the line, Powell will hit them with a fine big enough to hurt a billion-dollar media company, but he's not going to tell them where that line is. What can any company do but play it safe and cautious and make their product as inoffensive as possible. Powell piously and disingenuously claims that he can't give us and guidelines because that would be censorship and censorship is wrong.

Powell makes it clear who is running this system:
But we are not the federal Bureau of Indecency. We do not watch or listen to programs hoping to catch purveyors of dirty broadcasts. Instead, we rely on public complaints to point out potentially indecent shows. Advocacy groups do generate many complaints, as our critics note, but that's not unusual in today's Internet world. We are very familiar with organized protests when it comes to media issues, but that fact does not minimize the merits of the groups' concerns.

He's practically inviting right-wing culture warriors to set up their own Bureaus of Indecency. He doesn't mind being manipulated by organized advocacy campaigns.

But does that work both ways? Could liberal or libertarian advocacy campaigns balance out the noise from the right? In a word, no.
If one slices through the rhetoric, you'll find that most opponents of the agency's strong enforcement efforts believe that the government simply should not impose any decency standard at all. Berating citizens who believe in values and reasonable limits is insulting and polarizing and distracts from the legitimate issues of this policy debate.

Anyone who questions the complaints of the right is a smut-mongering pornographer who is insulting the heartland "citizens who believe in values and reasonable limits." By definition, the questioners have no values. But we knew that.
Thanks, Tommy
Yesterday, Tommy Thompson announced that he too will be leaving the Bush cabinet. At his press conference, Thompson said, "For the life of me," he said, "I cannot understand why the terrorists have not attacked our food supply because it is so easy to do." I think most of us in Left Blogistan had the same reaction, which was something along the lines of, "Thanks, Tommy. I needed some motivation to get work on that vegtable garden I've been planning." My clever wife had a different take. "Maybe," she said, "he's been trying to send a message to the administration and this is the only way he could get them to listen." This, of course, raises the question, how come I'm the one writing the blog and she isn't?

In a related story, the administration announced that Donald Rumsfeld will be staying at the Defense Department, thus ruining my breakfast.
More on CBS
My clever wife pointed out that CBS has a long tradition of chickening out in the face of potential controversy.
In October 1968 CBS executives began to prescreen all of Smothers Brothers their [sic] programs. After several tumultuous seasons, the program was canceled (the Smothers Brothers called it being "Fired") and left the air in June of 1969. The CBS network justified their cancellation by referring to network policy that "Prohibits appeals for active support of any cause" (even if it was "peace").

This brings to mind a few more thoughts on CBS's refusal to air an ad by the United Church of Christ that touts the church's policy of tolerance. The Smothers Brothers case demonstrates that CBS has a long standing policy of avoiding controversy, though it is important to draw a distinction between controversy in programming (which clearly indicates some level of approval by the network) and controversy from advertisers (who are not under the editorial control of the network). The Smothers Brothers case is also interesting in that it came only a little more than a year after Walter Cronkite's famous 1968 report on the Viet Nam War during which he reported that the war was stalemated and advocated beginning negotiations with the North. CBS likes to take credit for the personal bravery of Cronkite and others in their news division, credit to which the network as a whole certainly is not entitled.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Say hello
Frequent commenter Bryan now has his own place, with catblogging and blogging cats. And he shows an appreciation of the fine art of defenestration, which is reason enough to check him out (though his commentary dwells on its later French period, ignoring completely its Bohemian origins). Go say hi.
Friday catblogging blogging
Now that we're getting toward the end of the year, various groups will be putting out "best of" awards for the blogs. Some of the awards have come and gone and some are now in process, but the coveted Kouvacs haven't even started yet, so I still have time to air my humble suggestion.

I propose that future blog awards include a category for catblogging. This is now a venerable enough tradition that it has garnered a trends column in the New York Times. I'll leave it up to the vaious awards judges to decide if catblogging should be limited exclusively to blogs by and about cats or if bassett bloggers, like TBogg, and cephalapod bloggers, like Pharyngula, get to contend.

Any support for the idea?

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Why do Coulter and Carlson hate America?
Bush is in Canada to "mend fences." Since he stays monotonously on message and his message is "I'll do whatever I want, but to show you what a big fellow I am, I'll let you help," I'm not sure how much good this will do our fences. That's just me. At least he's been less directly offensive than he is on most of his trips. Still, the official talking point for the week is that we've forgiven Canada and we're friends again.

Soulless right-wing pundits Ann Coulter and Tucker Carlson, who seem to have missed this week's talking points, spent last night ridiculing Canada and Canadians.
On FOX News Channel's Hannity & Colmes, Coulter said that Canadians "better hope the United States doesn't roll over one night and crush them. They are lucky we allow them to exist on the same continent." On CNN's Wolf Blitzer Reports, Carlson stated: "Without the U.S., Canada is essentially Honduras, but colder and much less interesting"; he went on to say that instead of following politics, "the average Canadian is busy dogsledding." And on Crossfire, Carlson referred to the "limpid, flaccid nature of Canadian society."

Such blatant undermining of the president's stated policies is the kind of America hating behavior that weakens our national will and emboldens our enemies. I am shocked -- shocked I tell you -- that cable news provides a forum for such odious treason.
Can't pass this up
Sen. Bill "Hello Kitty" Frist's campaign racked up half a million dollars in stock market losses between 2001 and 2004. "The committee's most recent filing shows a little more than $10,000 was paid on the $360,000 loan from U.S. Bank..." that was due last August.

Kevin Drum comments, "But I thought the economy was roaring along under the stewardship of the Republican party?"

Ezra Klein comments, "You know what sounds good? Privatizing Social Security."

They've pretty much covered my points, so I'll just snort derisively.

Four more years of White House press briefings
Q: Can I ask you, are you able to give a straight answer on anything or is spouting bullshit your only setting?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think the President has talked -- the President has regularly expessed his confidence and pride at the quality and frequency of his administration's culture of openness and communication with the American people. We are working with the international community to achieve a new standard of free and peaceful communication that is critical to our plan of making the world a safer and better place. Next question?

Q: Does the President --

MR. McCLELLAN: And we always remember the sacrifices of our men and women in the military, helping to make the world a freer place.

Q: Does the President plan to address the issue of --

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry Ms. Thomas, you forgot to say "Mother may I." Does anyone else have a question?
Portraits in courage
Last year CBS celebrated its 75th anniversary. They took over a Sunday night's prime-time programming to run the usual self-congratulatory retrospective special. I didn't watch very much of it, but I did see a few minutes of the part dedicated to their news. I managed to hit the moment where they showed Walter Cronkite's famous report on the failure of our war in Viet Nam. That's a clip always worth watching. This was followed by a few minutes of the hosts going on about how brave CBS news is and some excellent 60 Minutes clips. At the time I found it humorous that CBS had the gall to call themselves brave less than three weeks after they cancelled the Ronald Reagan movie in the face of angry conservatives who had heard it might be insufficiently idolizing (of course, none of the critics had actually seen the movie). Maybe their humor writers wrote the host's script for the special.

This week, CBS continues to display that same level of bravery. The United Church of Christ tried to buy ad time for a new identity campaign highlighting the fact that they, like Jesus, "welcome all people, regardless of ability, age, race, economic circumstance or sexual orientation." On would think that that's a simple statement of fact and therefore shouldn't be too dangerous to say in public. One would be wrong.
According to a written explanation from CBS, the United Church of Christ is being denied network access because its ad implies acceptance of gay and lesbian couples -- among other minority constituencies -- and is, therefore, too "controversial."

"Because this commercial touches on the exclusion of gay couples and other minority groups by other individuals and organizations," reads an explanation from CBS, "and the fact the Executive Branch has recently proposed a Constitutional Amendment to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, this spot is unacceptable for broadcast on the [CBS and UPN] networks."


The debut 30-second commercial features two muscle-bound "bouncers" standing guard outside a symbolic, picturesque church and selecting which persons are permitted to attend Sunday services. Written text interrupts the scene, announcing, "Jesus didn't turn people away. Neither do we." A narrator then proclaims the United Church of Christ's commitment to Jesus' extravagant welcome: "No matter who you are, or where you are on life's journey, you are welcome here." (The ad can be viewed online at

NBC has also refused to air the ad. On the side of tolerance, or at least self-interested capitalism, are ABC Family, AMC, BET, Discovery, Fox, Hallmark, the History Channel, Nick@Nite, TBS, TNT, Travel, and TV Land, all of whom have agreed to sell time to the United Church of Christ.
"We find it disturbing that the networks in question seem to have no problem exploiting gay persons through mindless comedies or titillating dramas, but when it comes to a church's loving welcome of committed gay couples, that's where they draw the line," says the Rev. Robert Chase, director of the UCC's communication ministry.

CBS and NBC's refusal to air the ad "recalls the censorship of the 1950s and 1960s, when television station WLBT in Jackson, Miss., refused to show people of color on TV," says Ron Buford, coordinator for the United Church of Christ identity campaign. Buford, of African-American heritage, says, "In the 1960s, the issue was the mixing of the races. Today, the issue appears to be sexual orientation. In both cases, it's about exclusion."

Reread CBS's explanation, "Because this commercial touches on the exclusion of gay couples and other minority groups by other individuals and organizations, and the fact the Executive Branch has recently proposed a Constitutional Amendment to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, this spot is unacceptable for broadcast..." Since when has it been network policy to refuse paid ads by someone who might be perceived by some as being vaguely critical of proposed legislation? If the FDA (part of the executive branch) reopened hearings on the safety of Aspartame (a good idea, by the way) would CBS refuse all adds for products containing NutraSweet? Are they afraid Michael Powell will find a statement that a church practices tolerance to be obscene and an affront to community standards? Are they afraid that a right-wing consumer backlash will bring them to their knees like O'Reilly's boycott of France did?

This kind of cowardly self-censorship is more contemptible and more dangerous than formal censorship. In the old communist days, most of the countries in Eastern Europe did not have formal censorship laws on the books (contrary to the popular American stereotype). The Communist Parties depended on self-censorship to be more thorough and flexible than any written law. If a writer did not restrain himself from writing something controversial, his editor could be counted on to loose nerve and remove potentially offensive content. If the editor let something get by, the printer's union would refuse to print it. If anything even vaguely offensive to the powers that be somehow made it into print, the merchants could be counted on to refuse to sell it. At the bottom, the consumers could always be counted on to be too timid to buy controversial works or to denounce anyone who did. The result, without ever passing a a censorship law, was a completely tame, uninformative, and inoffensive media structure. Most people got their news and information from rumors.

Maybe CBS was joking when they touted their bravery last fall, but the joke has gotten old and it's not funny any more.

Update: Josh Marshall has a number of good posts on this (start here and work up). He's talked to a representative of CBS who explains their policy as: "CBS/UPN Network policy precludes accepting advertising that touches on and/or takes a position on one side of a current controversial issue of public importance." Apparently saying we let gays worship in our church "touches on and/or takes a position on one side of" the Heteros Only Marriage Amendment controversy. Let's keep in mind that the ad does not mention the amendment and the amendment doesn't directly mention homosexuals. But simply stating that your group doesn't discriminate is an intollerable act of advocacy to CBS. I'm going to stick with my call that this is a case of cowardly self-censorship. How 'bout you.