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Disputatious Inclusion

A friend of mine e-mailed me a pair of links a couple days ago regarding an ostensibly controversial ad that was considered unacceptable by CBS and NBC.

The odd thing is, the video is not even about advocating gay marriageâ??â??itâ??s about condemning intolerance.

My friendâ??s sentiments are shared by others. John Nichols of The Nation writes:

It is a graceful commercial, which delivers an important message gently yet effectively -- something that cannot be said of most television advertising these days. But viewers of the CBS and NBC television networks won't see it because, in this age of heightened focus on so-called "moral values," quoting Jesus on the issue of inclusion is deemed to be "too controversial."

What was controversial? Apparently, the networks don't like the ad's implication that the Nazarene's welcome to all people might actually include ALL people.

Noting that the image of one woman putting her arm around another was included in the ad, CBS announced, "Because the 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 on the (CBS and UPN) networks."

NBC was similarly concerned that the spot was "controversial." UCC leaders, pastors and congregation members are upset, and rightly so.

"It' seems incredible to me that CBS admits it is refusing to air the commercial because of something the Executive Branch, the Bush administration, is doing," says Dave Moyer, conference minister for the Wisconsin Conference of the UCC. "Since when is it unacceptable to offer a different perspective?"

Good question and one that should be asked in many different contexts, over and over and over. It seems that in the advertising venue, at least, mutual assured destruction has been observed. But this ad was benched by CBS and NBC and didnâ??t even get a chance to play with the advertising big boys on those stations. Although â??controversial,â? the subject of inclusion apparently lacks the â??rightâ? sense of machismo. It doesnâ??t seem to jive with the current â??acceptableâ? ethos. And, if let out of the box, it could very well prove to be perilously infectious.

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How To Keep the Proles Stupid, And Feel Good Doing It

Problem: You're a school administrator who's being judged on your graduation rate; at the same time, you're having your resources depleted, and you're losing the capability to improve that graduation rate. What do you do?

Solution: Persuade the bad students to drop out. That seems to be the method of choice in Orange County, Florida, at least according to a special report [streaming video avalable at transcript page] on Tuesday's News Hour. Here's how it works:

  1. You identify the students most likely to fail.
  2. You then go to those students, and tell them all about the GED program. (And don't miss the opportunity to mentiont that attendance is optional -- not that something like that would matter to 16-17 year old kids...)
  3. The students think it's a really sweet deal (hell, it gets them away from school, and legally, too), so they withdraw from school (in Florida parlance thats a "code W26").
  4. Once they go W26, they're officially no longer part of your statistics -- and you've immediately improved your graduation rate, really dramatically. (And, as a bonus, since W26 students aren't classified as "dropouts", you get to cut your dropout rate, as well.)

What really matters, of course, is whether this works for the kids. That's not as easy to tell as one might hope: Apparently there aren't any ready statistics on how many kids who are "referred to" GED programs actually enroll in them, and since attendance isn't mandatory, there's no way to tell how many of the kids who do enroll, actually go. The best evidence available, though, indicates that most referred, don't enroll; and of those who enroll, most don't attend classes.

In the neo-Calvinist ethos that drives programs like No Child Left Behind, there's no problem here: The kids "referred" to the GED program are exercising free choice, and paying the consequences for their actions. In my experience, though, it's a very rare 16 or 17 year old who's fully qualified to assess the pros and cons of stepping off the main rails of The System and onto the free and open road. If someone is there telling them a happy tale designed to serve their own ends -- whether it's a guidance counselor, recruiting officer, MLM huckster, what have you -- we can't be surprised if they fall for it.

Quote for the Moment

Our judgement, our understanding, are not adequate. We kill people, unnecessarily. Wilson said, "We won the war to end all wars." I'm not so naïve or simplistic to believe we can eliminate war. We're not going to change human nature any time soon. It isn't that we aren't rational -- we are rational -- but reason has limits. There's a quote from T.S. Eliot that I just love: "We will not cease exploring. And at the end of our explorations, we will return to where we started, and know the place for the first time." And that's in a sense where I'm beginning to be.

-- Robert Strange McNamara, The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara

Escalation As An Ethos

Here's an unforseen legacy of the last election: Advertising is getting more blatantly confrontational, and it's doing it very suddenly. it's a massive escalation; it feels like a war. It isn't one -- mutual assured destruction as a brand-marketing strategy just really has no legs, and especially when it becomes a norm.

Two cases in point:

Case 1, Original: "AOL Loves You! Really!"

A receptionist (thin, 30-something, with curly brown hair and a long, slightly bony face) looks up from her desk to find a line of people, dressed in a wide variety of street clothes, snaking out the door of her lobby. "We're customers," he explains; "we've got some suggestions we'd like to give you."

Cut to the receptionist going into her boss's (young, business-casual in an open-necked striped dress shirt, olive complexion and close-trimmed hair): "There are some customers here to see you," she says.

"How many?"

They look together out the expansive windows of his office to behold a sea of people washing across the hills and dales of an exurban office park that just happens to look remarkably like the AOL complex in Dulles, Virginia. "I think we're gonna need a few more chairs," the boss quips hollowly.

[in Windows Media format from Slate.com | ad in QuickTime from United Online Creative Services | ad in Windows Media from United Online Creative Services]

Case 1, Counterattack: "Yeah, Bite Me, AOL."

A receptionist (thin, 30-something, with curly brown hair and a long, slightly bony face) looks up from her desk to find a line of people, dressed in a wide variety of street clothes, snaking out the door of her lobby. "We're customers," he explains; "we've come to tell you that we're leaving and going with somebody else. We're tired of all the spam, and we found someone who'll give us unlimited access for one low monthly rate."
Cut to the receptionist going into her boss's (young, business-casual in an open-necked striped dress shirt, olive complexion and close-trimmed hair): "There are some customers here to see you," she says.

"What do they want?"

"They say they're leaving. They say they're going to NetZero."

They look together out the expansive windows of his office to behold a sea of people washing across the hills and dales of an exurban office park that just happens to look remarkably like the AOL complex in Dulles, Virginia. Cue tight shot of some holding up signs marked with slogans like "Buh-Bye AOL!" and "I'm switching to NetZero."

NetZero has been good enough to put both their spots and AOL's online for your viewing pleasure. (Thanks to AdRants.com for pointing that out.) The resemblance is uncanny. It's striking enough that the NetZero ad bothers to cast near doubles of the original actors; but then it clothes them similarly, strives forcefully to make the environment match so closely that my memory can't flag any differences -- and indeed, the photo-styroyboards at the NetZero creative site illustrate the attention to detail -- and then they recreate the office park so carefully. I've been to that complex; I know what it looks like. And those ad creatives, and probably a few of the marketing folks at NetZero, have all been there, too.

The second example plays off of Miller's football-themed "penalty" spots:

Case 2, Original: "Un-Beermanlike Conduct", etc.

This is really a series of ads, of which I can recall about three or four. In these ads, customers are quietly engaging in some beer-drinking-related activities, when a penalty flag comes out of nowhere and a man in a football referee's uniform enters the scene to replace some unsatisfactory Budweiser sub-brand with a Miller Lite.

Notably, I can't be sure that the word "Budweiser" or "Bud" ever occurs in any of these commercials, and I can't be sure that the Budweiser bottles and logos are accurately represented. Proper brandsmanship, that. But a little gutless, by comparison with....

Case 2, Counterattack: "The Beer Bandits"

In the counter-ad (which I've learned is apparently also part of a series), a group of 20-something, quasi-professional looking types are enjoying Bud Lights at a swank-looking barbecue. The referees enter the scene, blow their whistles, and immediately start replacing bottles of "fresh Bud Light" (held close to the camera to show the new "branding" with clear label on brown glass) with Miller Lite.

The BBQ patrons aren't pleased; some of them start shouting, so the Refs have to flee -- gleefully dragging "confiscated" cases of Bud Light along with them...

"[W]hat they did was phenominally stupid," says "Press Marketing's" PressBlog. "(There's another agency that will never make us rich by buying out Press Marketing.) If you're watching the ads, you can't help being reminded of the Miller Lite ads. If you aren't paying attention, you might think you are watching one of the Miller Lite ads. So the Bud Light ads are really amplifying the value of their competitors efforts." Certainly the same argument could and probably would be made about the NetZero-AOL tradeoff.

Maybe so; certainly that's what I'd expect the common, received wisdom to be in the industry. But maybe not. Americans love a good smackdown, and what counts better as a smackdown than throwing your opponent's own excrement right back in their faces? It wins the bully demo and the close-bully demo, and it wins the hipster brigade. It wins "Man Show" viewers, for sure; the faux Miller Lite refs are getting away with something, and you know how dearly we love to get away with shit.

And there are few people more negative about their former brand than an ex-AOL customer and anti-Miller drinkers. I've know quite a few of each -- hell, I am one of each. "Anti-Millerism" was damn near a religion when I was in school in the early '80s. Drinking Miller High Life was a good way to elicit quiet contempt from your classmates. Why, everyone knew that stuff was laced with formaldehyde....

NetZero's counter-attack targets more rational concerns, keying off marginal AOL customers' chief complaints: Excessive spam, and high cost. As I poke around researching the matter, I learn that I'm not the only one who thinks AOL's original ad was a tad too unintentionally ironic:

[The AOL commercial is] misguided. The ad shows a mob of AOL customers massing in front of the corporate offices, demanding to be heard. There are so many problems with this. 1) Why would I sign up for a service when its users are so intensely dissatisfied that they're storming corporate headquarters to beg for improvements? Wouldn't I prefer a service whose users have no pressing complaints and are sitting contentedly at home, perhaps whiling away the hours with a few pleasant games of online Boggle? 2) That shot of the endless mass of AOLers reminds me that this is a gargantuan corporation and as such is pretty damn unlikely to deliver the highly responsive, highly personal service these ads are promising. Make me feel like I'm your only customer. Don't make me feel like I'm standing in line with 23 million other unhappy schlubs.

Finally, 3) This ad was actually shot on location at the AOL corporate campus in Virginia. [yup, I thought so...] Which reminds meâ??avid business-page reader that I amâ??that these headquarters will soon suffer a rash of layoffs. AOL is about to fire 700 employees.

This is because AOL is screwed. Its subscriber base is slowly but steadily shrinking, as even ill-informed AOLers realize that there are cheaper, better ways to access the Internet. (NetZero costs half as much for dial-up, and broadband providers offer far more bandwidth.)...

[Seth Stevenson on Slate.com; listen to the article as commentary on NPR]

People who dismiss these ads too quickly, I submit, are also out of touch with their own sense memory. I saw the two ads I mention here about 45 minutes apart, on the same channel, during the same show (CBS's CSI:NY). (I'd be extremely surprised to learn they weren't the same agency, even the same production team.) And I distinctly remember thinking, about 5 seconds in, each time, "There's something wrong, here." There were subtle differences: In the Budweiser commercial, my alarm bells went off as soon as I heard the phrase "fresh Bud Light": "freshness" is a Budweiser brand differentiator, and one they've worked hard to promote. If I assume that branding means anything (and I do at least assume that some people, with deep checkbooks, assume that it does), then I can assume that the "freshness" meme -- at least, in a beer context -- has been implanted in at least part of the television-viewing populace.

Put another way: Maybe Budweiser has confidence in their brand. And maybe NetZero are cocky upstarts with a marketable product and no publicly-known bad karma.

Since these campaigns almost certainly came from the same creative team, I wouldn't call this a trend. But it's interesting that it arises just right now, following our most mean-spirited election since 1932, and in an era where party functionaries seem to be taking steps to usurp government power at every opportunity: They are exercising total ideological war. That's the geist of our zeit.

From the "Just How Stupid Do We Look?" Department: Congressman Istook's Mysterious Amendment

Bill Frist and Tom DeLay have said they didn't know how that pesky rider got into the big spending bill; apparently, Ernest Istook (R-OK) put it there:

Tucked into the massive spending bill Congress debated over the weekend was a provision that read as follows: " ... upon written request of the Chairman of the House or Senate Committee on Appropriations, the ... [IRS] shall allow agents designated by such Chairman access to Internal Revenue Service facilities and any tax returns or return information contained therein."

Stop here for a second: "agents designated by such chairman" means that a designate of the chair of Ways and Means (which means, it could be more or less anybody) could have access to any tax return he wanted to. Anyone's. And there's probably no conceptual limit on the number of "designates" the chairmen could name. Why, they could name their own special squads of moral supercops, to go out and scrutinize tax returns for moral culpability. But I digress....

In other words, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee could look at your tax returns - or the tax returns of his next opponent for re-election, or those of the next Democratic presidential nominee. This amendment was inserted at the request of Rep. Ernest Istook (R-Okla.), chairman of the House Appropriations Transportation Subcommittee, whose last claim to fame was a failed attempt to slip in a 1997 amendment promoting prayer in all public schools.

The tax return-spying amendment was excised from the omnibus bill as soon as it was spotted. "Honest mistakes were made, but there's no conspiracy here," said Istook.

"Fairness" is irrelevant when God is on your side.

[thanks to American Samizdat]

The Long, Cold Winter of the New American Century

It snowed here on Monday night and Tuesday morning. I saw it whirling in my headlights just as I drove into town, en route back from an extended weekend spend looping through central Pennsylvania. It was just a dusting, a half inch or less, but it's been cold enough since that it's still hanging on, mid-morning on Wednesday. Wednesday, November 11, 2004, in western NY state.

It's getting colder, earlier, here, it seems; two years ago we got substantial snow on Halloween that stuck on the ground for several days. I spent a week in Iceland, two weeks ago, and it was barely colder there than here the whole time. The last three winters here in Rochester have been brutally, abnormally cold and heavy. In the depth of last winter, I would drive to work early and alone and in the pitch dark, in near-zero-Fahrenheit cold, with clouds of fine, powdery snow snaking wildly in the cone of my headlights. I'd have to dig out my car to get it out of my parking space in the morning, and usually had to dig thorugh to get it back in at night.

It's not that bad, yet, but I'm tempted to blame it on global warming. Which is on my mind often, but more so today thanks to a friend pointing me to the new, slightly overdue climate report [PDF] just released by the Arctic Council.

Priorities: How does anything as small as religion, terrorism, or political partisanship matter when you're in the process of changing the physical world in ways that our civilization won't be able to deal with? Answer: It matters because we allow political expediencies to define something that we describe as "reality", when what we really mean is "worldview".

Calling it "reality" makes a position seem so much more forceful, so much more resolute. But "Reality," to quote the late P. K. Dick, "is that which, when you stop believing in it, does not go away." We've learned in the modern west that we can use science to divine some knowledge of those things that don't go away. Yet faced with some of that knowledge, many forces in power reject them as a "reality" they don't choose to "privilege". How ironic -- how "neat" -- that critics of "political correctness" should use the tools that enabled it to enforce their own reality distortion field.

And how ironic that these privileged classes who are busily extracting wealth as the clock winds down are turning themselves into the class of humans most likely to survive. It's actually a great case-study for the non-deterministic nature of evolution: That a class of actors with an ethos that revolves around denying reality are the most likely to survive the real global consequences of their own errors.

Brace yourselves, you degenerates

LANSING -- Michigan Republicans plan to attack Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm in the next gubernatorial race on the same moral issues that helped President George W. Bush win re-election Tuesday over Democratic Sen. John Kerry.

"The 2006 race has begun today, and we are laying the values debate at Gov. Granholm's doorstep," state GOP Executive Director Greg McNeilly declared Thursday, at a postelection conference of pundits and political leaders.

McNeilly added, "She's wrong on abortion, she's wrong on gay marriage and she's wrong on the war on terror." McNeilly referred to a brief televised interview last week in which Granholm said women would like to hear Bush apologize for mistakes made in the Iraq war. [â??GOP to hit Granholmâ??s valuesâ? by Chris Christoff and Ruby L. Bailey, Detroit Free Press, November 5, 2005]

Looks like words like â??healingâ? and â??unityâ? are going by the wayside faster than I expected. Surely, GOP leaders will continue to give lip service to the concept of moving forward, united, but people like McNeilly will give us a taste of the GOPâ??s true recipe for healing devoid of compassion and compromise. You accept their brand of bandage or else, well, you donâ??t. And if you donâ??t, you havenâ??t just made a different choice. No. You are WRONG. As in: diametrically opposed to â??Right.â? In fact, you are now MORALLY wrong.

Fellow degenerates, there will be no surrender.

O.K., Folks: Back to Work.

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Thought for the Moment

To a Friend whose Work has come to Nothing

NOW all the truth is out,
Be secret and take defeat
From any brazen throat,
For how can you compete,
Being honour bred, with one
Who, were it proved he lies,
Were neither shamed in his own
Nor in his neighbours' eyes?
Bred to a harder thing
Than Triumph, turn away
And like a laughing string
Whereon mad fingers play
Amid a place of stone,
Be secret and exult,
Because of all things known
That is most difficult.

W.B. Yeats

[courtesy madamjujujive at MeFi]

Banishing fear

I applaud Brian Dickersonâ??s prediction in todayâ??s Detroit Free Press that â??Intolerance will lose the test of timeâ?.

I hope the pollsters are wrong.

But with less than a week to go before Tuesday's election, nearly all their surveys suggest that Michigan voters are prepared to adopt a constitutional amendment consigning gay people to second-class citizenship.

It shouldn't surprise anyone that the issue has come to a head now. There is fear abroad in the land -- abundant, inchoate and desperately in search of a lightning rod. This year, gay people are it.

Proposal 2 would appease the fearful by barring legal recognition of gay marriages and civil unions. Proponents argue that the amendment is necessary to preserve the sanctity of heterosexual marriage, and I suppose they have a point. We all know what happened to the sanctity of drinking fountains and swimming pools when liberal judges decided those sanctuaries of white Christendom should be accessible to everyone.

But my purpose here is not to ridicule the self-appointed guardians of heterosexual privilege. My purpose is to reassure those disheartened by the popularity of Proposal 2, because I'm convinced the shadow it has cast over Michigan's good name will be fleeting.

Mr. Dickerson believes that the more we have contact with people who are openly gay, â??the harder it will be for straight Americans to sustain the delusion of alien menace all bigotry requires to sustain itself.â? Personal contact is essential, but open discussion is especially vital in this process.


Will we see more positive attitudes toward homosexuality within a decade or even a generation as Brian Dickerson suggests? That might depend on how well interpersonal communication dissolves impeding factors, such as the influence of gender, age, education level, authoritarian personality characteristics, conservative political values, literalist, orthodox religious beliefs, and other demographic correlates associated with negative attitudes toward gay people.


In addition, the people we choose to represent us in our government have a role in determining whether or not there is adequate progress toward the optimistic end forecasted by Brian Dickerson. We need to vote judiciously.

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Quote for the moment

Against all odds, my partner and I and thousands other gay and lesbian couples in Michigan have built lives without privileges heterosexuals take for granted. We obey the law, pay taxes, keep our lawns cut. We go to work, to Belle Isle, to the symphony, to the movies, to baseball games. Many have adopted children, often kids no one else wants. Yet Michigan seems poised to alter its constitution to say to us: You do not matter. Your loves and your fealty are meaningless. Your work, your home, your contributions to society are second-best. Sure, we'll take your money, but don't expect anything in return.

From my house, it is three blocks to the Detroit River. I walk down there now and then, looking toward Windsor across the water, and I think: We could move there. I could keep my job. We wouldn't have to worry about catastrophic health costs. We could even get married if we wanted.

Then I imagine how painful it would be to abandon my country.

But then, perhaps it is my country that is abandoning me.


-- �Why take gay couples' only benefit away?� (Detroit Free Press, October 21, 2004)
[Christopher T. Leland, novelist and professor of English at Wayne State University, comments on possible loss of domestic partner health benefits should Proposal 2 (to amend the Michigan Constitution) on the Nov. 2 ballot pass.]

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Religious right risk

There is a point where ideology meets facts. And sometimes, blind faith prevails.

Despite the increasing evidence that abstinence-only programs fail to deter sexual behavior, the US House of Representatives passed a 49 percent increase in abstinence-only sex education funding earlier this month as part of the 2005 Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Bill, Kaisernetwork.org reports. The bill has not yet been passed by the Senate.

â??These reports provide further indication that the abstinence-only approach is misguided and should be abandoned,â? said James Wagoner, President of Advocates for Youth, in a press release. â??Thirty years of public health research showsâ??and parents agreeâ??that young people need encouragement and support to delay sex and they need information about condoms and birth control to help them protect themselves when they do become sexually active.â?

I submit that abstinence-only programs are in fact not only misguided, but also ethically irresponsible. Sexually transmitted infections among youth donâ??t vanish in the face of heavily promoted religious-right desires.

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George W. Bush: Seeding The Moral Destruction Of America

The Bushite NeoCons are literally planting the seeds of America's moral destruction, and Seymour Hersh has seen the roots sprouting, first-hand:

.... rumors of atrocities around Iraq that to Hersh brought back memories of My Lai. In the evening's most emotional moment, Hersh talked about a call he had gotten from a first lieutenant in charge of a unit stationed halfway between Baghdad and the Syrian border. His group was bivouacking outside of town in an agricultural area, and had hired 30 or so Iraqis to guard a local granary. A few weeks passed. They got to know the men they hired, and to like them. Then orders came down from Baghdad that the village would be "cleared." Another platoon from the soldier's company came and executed the Iraqi granary guards. All of them.

"He said they just shot them one by one. And his people, and he, and the villagers of course, went nuts," Hersh said quietly. "He was hysterical, totally hysterical. He went to the company captain, who said, 'No, you don't understand, that's a kill. We got 36 insurgents. Don't you read those stories when the Americans say we had a combat maneuver and 15 insurgents were killed?'

"It's shades of Vietnam again, folks: body counts," Hersh continued. "You know what I told him? I said, 'Fella, you blamed the captain, he knows that you think he committed murder, your troops know that their fellow soldiers committed murder. Shut up. Complete your tour. Just shut up! You're going to get a bullet in the back.' And that's where we are in this war."

[Seymour Hersh, speaking at Berkeley 2004/10/08; available as webcast]

Hersh has been there before, on the ground in Vietnam as a war correspondent. He walked among the grunts and heard the whispers about fragging contracts. He talked with the guys from My Lai who didn't keep their mouths shut and barely survived for that.

This is also one reason that flag-rank uniformed officers of a certain age despise the Bushites. They despise them, in other words, because the NeoCon-controlled civilian Pentagon has fed them brown acid and now they're stuck in a hotter, dryer flashback to a moral morass wherein a soldier had to fear a bullet in the back for calling "injustice."

As studiously as they work at failing to understand this simple fact, the Bushites have created an ethos wherein amorality is adaptive, and moral behavior maladaptive, and that will be the downfall of not just a few grunts but also of the Army and Marine Corps, themselves. Such an environment is a recipe for depravity. It is possible to send a person to war and get them back more or less in one piece, even if they've killed. But when you make them kill (which is hard enough to do, believe it or not) and you take away their reasons for believing that there's somehow justice in what they're doing -- when you make them repress their basic moral capacities, just to survive -- then you're setting yourself up for chaos.

Discipline in military units, as in most small working grousp of people, is primarily a matter of loyalty to your fellows. When you sow the seeds of disloyalty, you destroy discipline. The Bushites are destroying not only a generation of young men and women, but they're also destroying their great instrument of World Justice, our armed forces.

They need to be removed before they do any more damage. And so we can make a small effort to repair the damage they've already wrought.

Dharma Judo

Also from the Trudeau interview: He spoke of attending a state dinner at the Clinton White House, in the company of his wife, Jane Pauley. "At that time I was depicting him as a kind of levitating waffle," Trudeau recalled. When he reached President Clinton in the receiving line, Clinton grasped his hand, turned to the visiting President of Morocco, and remarked: "Mister President, this is Garry Trudeau. He's a cartoonist. He makes fun of me for a living."

The Moroccan president was not amused.

The story leapt out at me because it showed Clinton turning Trudeau's comic-page attacks on him to his advantage. It allowed him to offer a subtle slight to his guest -- a leader whose human rights record was poor at best. "In America, we don't fear criticism," he seemed to be saying.

I can't imagine George W. Bush being willing to expose himself in that way. It requires an ego less fragile than Bush's.

Trudeau Remembering W: An Arrogant, Petulant Son of Wealth

I watched Garry Trudeau last night on the Charlie Rose show. He related the story of how he came to know George W. Bush when they were in school at Yale. Trudeau, it seems, and for reasons he wasn't sure of, got nominated to what amounted to a social committee. That committee was chaired by George W. Bush. They interacted throughout that year on such pressing issues as what beer to order for parties, and who to invite.

Trudeau's reaction was "visceral"; he described "W" as being very funny, but in a cruel way -- he had an eye for a person's weaknesses, and an instinctive sense for how to exploit them for humor. He found distasteful the notion that one ought to feel any obligation to service due to being born in an exalted position -- the very idea of noblesse oblige was anathema to him. "He hasn't changed much," Trudeau said.

Modern accounts put a fair face on George W. Bush's predilection for bullying and his taste for the shame of others. They euphemize by saying he has a talent for evaluating people; they make light of the verbal dominance game he plays by assigning dismissive nicknames. They pass over in silence his aggressive physical attack on the territory of the debating stage, and read mere discomfort in his scornful, contemptuous scowls from off-camera. To George W. Bush, the weak deserve nothing but contempt. That's why he appeals to cockroaches like Karl Rove: Rove is the very stereotype of the toady, the weak man who follows bullies and carries their water to make himself feel strong by association.

I wonder how many more people there are like Garry Trudeau, who knew and remember George W. Bush as an arrogant, pissant bully with a superior attitude, and how many of them don't have Trudeau's freedom to speak. Or how many would be happy to speak, just given the invitation.

A note like this is liable to get written off by readers on the extreme right as yet another example of venomous ad hominem attacks from the left. The uncomfortable fact remains, though, that there are lots of witnesses to speak to Bush's (and Rove's) mean-spiritedness dating back to their childhood, and few if any who'll say the same about, say, John Kerry.

(There is no audio or transcript available for this interview as I write this, though audio might appear here at some point in the future.)

Addendum: Trudeau interview(s) @ Charlie Rose

Dred Scott: It's Abortion, Stupid

In last Friday's debate, President Bush responded to a question about Supreme Court appointments by citing Scott -v- Sanford (a.k.a. "Dred Scott"):

I would pick somebody who would not allow their personal opinion to get in the way of the law. I would pick somebody who would strictly interpret the Constitution of the United States.

....

Another example would be the Dred Scott case, which is where judges, years ago, said that the Constitution allowed slavery because of personal property rights.

That's a personal opinion. That's not what the Constitution says. The Constitution of the United States says we're all -- you know, it doesn't say that. It doesn't speak to the equality of America.

And so, I would pick people that would be strict constructionists. We've got plenty of lawmakers in Washington, D.C. Legislators make law; judges interpret the Constitution.

While the majority of listeners who actually recognized the case were beetling their brows and thinking "what the hell?", the Bushite camp's fundamentalist Christian base were apparently pricking up their ears and decoding madly. Kynn at DailyKOS was puzzled by the reference, and after just a few moments of googling came up with the translation: It's about abortion, stupid:

Dred Scott and Roe v. Wade are an ominous parallel. In the Dred Scott Supreme Court, 7 to 2 decision, it was determined that blacks were not persons, they were the property of their owner, who could choose to sell or kill, that abolitionists should not impose morality on the slaveowner, slavery is legal. In the Roe v Wade, 7 to 2 decision, it was determined that the unborn are not persons, they are the property of their owners (the mother), their owner could choose to keep or kill, that the anti-abortionist should not impose their morality on the mother, abortion is legal.

In their language of illusion, the pro choice movement has argued in the name of civil liberty for the continued slaughter of unborn human beings. For some, misled by the lies that this movement promulgates, denial will keep them protected from this horrible truth, but others, caught in moral conflict and psychological anguish, may welcome ideas of hope for a new beginning.

["Holocaust Now! Debate Part 1"]

So there was yet another coded message that the majority of Americans did not get. It was a direct transmission to the Religious Right, encoded into George Bush's semantics of symbolism, and so garbled that people looking for rational English-language syntax could barely understand the superficial meaning.

(Aside: I'm more and more convinced that Bush's near-incoherence is more or less intentional. Here as elsewhere, his real message is symbolic and allusive; vague, and imprecise, and hence not vulnerable to rational analysis or judgement. He likes it that way. It's a dark and vague world where people with better language skills than his lose their advantage over him.)

The "language of illusion" that Dalin Hale refers to, of course, is language that does not accept the Christian view that foetuses have souls. It's simplistic to simply say "souls are a religious concept, ergo they can't be part of legal doctrine" -- because the value of life, and the nature of personhood, are cultural decisions, not legal ones. Law merely codifies the extreme bounds. What's at stake, here, is a definition of personhood that declares foetuses to be "unborn children", without regard for viability; a defintion which, furthermore, privileges the rights of that "unborn child" over the rights of the person on whom it relies for survival.

Some years ago, I had a discussion with a German about American attitudes toward life and death. He was puzzled, and frankly shocked, by what he saw as our obsession with the "tragedy" of child-death. "What about adults," he asked. "What about people who've gathered memories, and developed attachments to the world and to people in it? If anybody counts for more than anybody else, shouldn't they count for more?" I'm still not sure that's a viable path, but I'm also still not sure I disagree.

In An "Ownership Society", Love Is A Liability

Text for the moment is from Jack London's under-appreciated dystopian political thriller, The Iron Heel -- his narrator and heroine, sheltered young intellectual Avis Everhard, is trying to get to the bottom of a worker's injury claim:

"Why did you not call attention to the fact that Jackson was trying to save the machinery from being injured?" I asked Peter Donnelly, one of the foremen who had testified at the trial.

He pondered a long time before replying. Then he cast an anxious look about him and said:

"Because I've a good wife an' three of the sweetest children ye ever laid eyes on, that's why."

"I do not understand," I said.

"In other words, because it wouldn't a-ben healthy," he answered.

"You mean--" I began.

But he interrupted passionately.

"I mean what I said. It's long years I've worked in the mills. I began as a little lad on the spindles. I worked up ever since. It's by hard work I got to my present exalted position. I'm a foreman, if you please. An' I doubt me if there's a man in the mills that'd put out a hand to drag me from drownin'. I used to belong to the union. But I've stayed by the company through two strikes. They called me 'scab.' There's not a man among 'em today to take a drink with me if I asked him. D'ye see the scars on me head where I was struck with flying bricks? There ain't a child at the spindles but what would curse me name. Me only friend is the company. It's not me duty, but me bread an' butter an' the life of me children to stand by the mills. That's why."

"Was Jackson to blame?" I asked.

"He should a-got the damages. He was a good worker an' never made trouble."

"Then you were not at liberty to tell the whole truth, as you had sworn to do?"

He shook his head.

"The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?" I said solemnly.

Again his face became impassioned, and he lifted it, not to me, but to heaven.

"I'd let me soul an' body burn in everlastin' hell for them children of mine," was his answer.

Henry Dallas, the superintendent, was a vulpine-faced creature who regarded me insolently and refused to talk. Not a word could I get from him concerning the trial and his testimony. But with the other foreman I had better luck. James Smith was a hard-faced man, and my heart sank as I encountered him. He, too, gave me the impression that he was not a free agent, as we talked I began to see that he was mentally superior to the average of his kind. He agreed with Peter Donnelly that Jackson should have got damages, and he went farther and called the action heartless and cold-blooded that had turned the worker adrift after he had been made helpless by the accident. Also, he explained that there were many accidents in the mills, and that the company's policy was to fight to the bitter end all consequent damage suits.

"It means hundreds of thousands a year to the stockholders," he said; and as he spoke I remembered the last dividend that had been paid my father, and the pretty gown for me and the books for him that had been bought out of that dividend. I remembered Ernest's charge that my gown was stained with blood, and my flesh began to crawl underneath my garments.

"When you testified at the trial, you didn't point out that Jackson received his accident through trying to save the machinery from damage?" I said.

"No, I did not," was the answer, and his mouth set bitterly. "I testified to the effect that Jackson injured himself by neglect and carelessness, and that the company was not in any way to blame or liable."

"Was it carelessness?" I asked.

"Call it that, or anything you want to call it. The fact is, a man gets tired after he's been working for hours."

I was becoming interested in the man. He certainly was of a superior kind.

"You are better educated than most workingmen," I said.

"I went through high school," he replied. "I worked my way through doing janitor-work. I wanted to go through the university. But my father died, and I came to work in the mills.

"I wanted to become a naturalist," he explained shyly, as though confessing a weakness. "I love animals. But I came to work in the mills. When I was promoted to foreman I got married, then the family came, and . . . well, I wasn't my own boss any more."

"What do you mean by that?" I asked.

"I was explaining why I testified at the trial the way I did--why I followed instructions."

"Whose instructions?"

"Colonel Ingram. He outlined the evidence I was to give."

"And it lost Jackson's case for him."

He nodded, and the blood began to rise darkly in his face.

"And Jackson had a wife and two children dependent on him."

"I know," he said quietly, though his face was growing darker.

"Tell me," I went on, "was it easy to make yourself over from what you were, say in high school, to the man you must have become to do such a thing at the trial?"

The suddenness of his outburst startled and frightened me. He ripped* out a savage oath, and clenched his fist as though about to strike me.

"I beg your pardon," he said the next moment. "No, it was not easy. And now I guess you can go away. You've got all you wanted out of me. But let me tell you this before you go. It won't do you any good to repeat anything I've said. I'll deny it, and there are no witnesses. I'll deny every word of it; and if I have to, I'll do it under oath on the witness stand."

[full text at Gutenberg]

George Bush and the American Dream

I listened to the BBC this morning, as I struggled up from sleep, and heard John Kerry compare himself to George Bush. "We have very similar backgrounds," I recall him remarking, in part. "We both come from privilege." Which is an odd thing for him to say, if you know anything of his personal history.

There's an intriguing bit of sleight-of-hand in the current image-positioning for the two principle Presidential candidates. George W. Bush (born to patrician old money and processed through a series of Good Schools) is cast in the folksy, working-guy role. Meanwhile, John Kerry (born to relatively humble parents, then climbing into the realm of the Brahmins on the strength of wit and delivery) is cast as the patrician.

"[U]nlike President Bush," Rush Limbaugh has intoned, "who once proudly wore the uniform of the United States military, Mr. Kerry will never know what it is like to wear the clothes of a working man." And yet, Kerry did serve as a Second Lieutenant in combat -- Second Louies didn't tend to last very long on the ground in-country -- and later worked hard to make a name for himself in a competetive, success-measured environment as a prosecuting attorney. While Kerry was in law school and at the DA's office, President Bush called in favors from his father's friends to bail him out of one bad business deal after another.

What's intriguing to me is not so much that the Bushite camp perpetuates this role-reversal, but that the Kerry camp permits it. Perhaps they recognize it's not a winnable battle (and it probably isn't). Or perhaps they think they've done all they can. (As they may well have.) But however you slice it, when you actually look at the grain of the wood, Kerry's life starts to look a lot more like the American Dream than Bush's.

Ralph Nader makes a good control subject in this, in a way. While people might get ethic or creedal details wrong, I think most people would accurately guess his background (ethnic working class, first generation American) and academic history (excelling through merit at tough schools). In a sense, he's the "real American" in this race -- he's the real "self-made man." In his post-consumer career, I expect that's what's allowed his image to resonate with so many people: He's an embodiment of the American Dream, in its most idealistic form.

The Reality Test

President Bush doesn't think that the United States should let anyone tell us who we can and can't attack. "[O]ur national security decisions will be made in the Oval Office, not in foreign capitals."

John Kerry agrees with him:

No president, through all of American history, has ever ceded, and nor would I, the right to preempt in any way necessary to protect the United States of America. But if and when you do it, Jim, you've got to do in a way that passes the test--that passes the global test--where your countrymen, your people understand fully why you're doing what you're doing, and you can prove to the world that you did it for legitimate reasons.

Here we have our own secretary of state who's had to apologize to the world for the presentation he made to the United Nations. I mean, we can remember when President Kennedy, in the Cuban missile crisis, sent his secretary of state to Paris to meet with [French President Charles] de Gaulle, and in the middle of the discussion to tell them about the missiles in Cuba, [the secretary of state] said, "Here, let me show you the photos." And de Gaulle waved them off, and said, "No, no, no, no. The word of the president of the United States is good enough for me." How many leaders in the world today would respond to us, as a result of what we've done, in that way?

So as Will Saletan points out in Slate, the crux of the issue could be boiled down to credibility. Our credibility was once good enough that even someone as notorious for his dislike of things American as Charles de Gaulle found the word of the President of the United States to be "good enough." Now, one doubts that even Tony Blair would take it.

Saletan has a deeper point, though: When we presented proof to de Gaulle or when Adlai Stephenson stood before the UN, we were showing proof: We were backing up our claims with evidence. Colin Powell presented himself as doing the same thing when he made his own presentation to the UN, the setting consciously echoing Stephenson's game-saving play of forty years before. But Powell, effectively, lied: The "proof" was window dressing for a con job.

"The test includes convincing 'your countrymen' that your reasons are clear and sound," Saletan offers. "Kerry isn't just talking about satisfying France. He's talking about satisfying Ohio. He's talking about you."

He's talking about us being able to trust our President again.

I'm a big boy. I know the President lies, or hides things, as a matter of national security. That's a fact of life. But I like to hope he doesn't like it. I like to hope he doesn't treat it as a way of life.

[thanks for link to Lynne]

Neo-Conservative Sadism

From the Guardian, via Daypop:

Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Christino, who retired last June after 20 years in military intelligence, says that President George W Bush and US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld have 'wildly exaggerated' their intelligence value.

....

In his previous assignment in Germany, one of his roles had been to co-ordinate intelligence support to the US army in Afghanistan, at Guantánamo, and to units responsible for transporting prisoners there.

Bush, Rumsfeld and Major General Geoffrey Miller, Guantánamo's former commandant who is now in charge of Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, have repeatedly claimed that Guantánamo interrogations have provided 'enormously valuable intelligence,' thanks to a system of punishments, physical and mental abuse and rewards for for co-operation, introduced by Miller and approved by Rumsfeld.

In a speech in Miami, Rumsfeld claimed: 'Detaining enemy combatants... can help us prevent future acts of terrorism. It can save lives and I am convinced it can speed victory.'

However, Christino says, General Miller had never worked in intelligence before being assigned to Guantánamo, and his system seems almost calculated to produce entirely bogus confessions.

Earlier this year, three British released detainees, Asif Iqbal, Shafiq Rasul [and] Rhuhel Ahmed, revealed that they had all confessed to meeting bin Laden and Mohamed Atta, leader of the 11 September hijackers, at a camp in Afghanistan in 2000. All had cracked after three months isolated in solitary confinement and interrogation sessions in chains that lasted up to 12 hours daily.

Eventually, MI5 proved what they had said initially - that none had left the UK that year. Rasul had been working at a branch of Currys. The disclosures come on the eve of a House of Lords appeal on the fate of the foreign terrorist suspects held without trial in British prisons.

[emphases added]

Which leaves me wondering at the resilience of the human spirit: It took three months of concentrated effort to crack these three men.

It also leaves me wondering what the real point is of all this torture. Why do Conservatives love it so? Could it possibly have something to do with the thug-right's willingness to engage whatever means are necessary to achieve their ends, and beg The Lord's forgiveness, later?

Hidebound proposal

As if all the hoopla surrounding the upcoming presidential election were not enough, Michigan voters also face a proposal to amend the Michigan Constitution to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

The amendment would limit marriage to heterosexual couples and prohibit recognition of similar unions as well. It is designed to limit the possibility that courts would find a right to marriage or civil unions for same-sex couples in Michigan, as they have in Massachusetts and Vermont. [â??Gay marriage ban headed for passageâ? by Dawson Bell, Detroit Free Press, October 2, 2004]

Even though there are voices of reason out there claiming that same-sex unions donâ??t threaten their own marriages and that people should be able to make their own choices as long as they donâ??t harm others, there is still very strong support for this proposed amendment. And, this support comes primarily from churchgoers, men, and voters older than 34.


One choice comment from a 65-year-old retiree:

"It's just not right. A man and a woman make children," she said. "Two men don't make children."

I see. We should all adopt her suggestion that the purpose for marriage is to somehow sanctify procreation? What about a man and a woman who do not make children due to infertility or choice? Should they be allowed to get married? Or would I lose too many to cognitive dissonance with a question like that?


And then, there are the almighty-preservation-of-institution backers:

Support for the amendment among Catholics, which the poll found was quite strong, is based on the notion that alternative forms of marriage will undermine the institution, said Rev. John West, a moral theologian for the Archdiocese of Detroit.

"Marriage between one man and one woman is part of the basic structure God built into human nature," West said. "The church didn't create marriage; neither did the government."

Great. Letâ??s pin it on â??God created it soâ? according to some convenient, surefire literalist interpretation of a manmade compendium of scripture. How is it again that same-sex marriages undermine their institution? Too loaded a question? And the implications surrounding the â??human natureâ? comment, not to mention theocratic suggestions, are possible fodder for discussion.


â??Let anyone with ears to hear listenâ? to voices of reason and compassion. And vote, vote, vote.

Topics: 

Where are the Pajama Bloggers, Now?

What's wrong with the picture on the right, below? For starters, it's been faked. The picture is linked directly from a Fox News "Photo Essay" montage of stills from Thursday's debate. Check the URL. Follow the link, as long as it stays live. I've mirrored it locally here. The picture on the left is a similar picture, from AFP, probably taken just a moment earlier or later. Notice anything unusual about the difference in height that shows in the two pictures?

Un-doctored photo from AFP wire
The AFP version of the pose.
Faked photo from Fox News Photo Essay [http://www.foxnews.com/photo_essay/photoessay_168_images/debate_handshake_350.jpg]
The Fox News version of the pose (mirrored here).

I first saw someone pointing to this picture on MeFi. It took me a minute to get it; then I did. I've taken the original illustration and added some visual aids to help make the issue clear. The brazenness of it astonishes me, and I'm wondering why only a few folks have cottoned to this. Hopefully, not only will that number grow, but other organizations will take some time to comb through their archives and compare to other Fox photos. (Of course, if they've been doing it themselves...) So far, this has been linked from KOS (albeit by a MeFi-ite), and just a few other blogs. I think that it's so far out there that most people don't believe they'd actually do it. Why we still fail to believe something like this, I don't know.

Comparison of AFP image and AP image doctored by Fox News
Comparison shot from Conspire.com, with visual aids added; original at Conspire.com.

After looking more closely at the pictures, I can see both (roughly) how they did it and what they used as their alignment point. Note the placement of George Bush's right elbow in the two pictures. Note also that the lapel pins align quite nicely. After carefully selecting an image that allows the President's body to be moved upward without affecting the Senator's, they nudged him up until the lapel pins aligned.

This would be a trivial piece of work for your run of the mill Fark photoshopper.

So, here's the question (and yes, this might be a silly question): If the election is supposed to be about issues, why did Fox News bother to alter a photograph to make the president seem taller than he really is?

Another question: Where are those noble pajama bloggers, now?

ADDENDUM: Some wannabe pajama bloggers seem to think this indicates a "Typical libdem perspective on the importance of crime"; and yes, I guess I'd have to agree. The fact that most "libdems" don't take the systematic, relentless attempts by Fox News to abet a consipracy of oligarchs in hijacking the American government more seriously than one admitted mistake by a beleaguered news magazine does represent a major problem of perspective.

ADDENDUM 2004-10-04: I couldn't find it, but someone else did. Here's the original AP photo, and yes, it does appear to have the same characteristics as the Fox photo. But given their history of frat-boy partisanship, I still find the idea that they would systematically warp the presentation of reality to be eminently plausible.

Subtle spin

As I type here, â??Sense and Sensibilityâ? by David Brooks has the #1 spot in â??Most popular articles sent by NYTimes.com readers in the last 24 hours.â?

The article begins:

In weak moments, I think the best ticket for this country would be Bush-Kerry. The two men balance each other out so well.

As I read that, red flags were raised. Even in my weak moments I donâ??t see these men as balancing each other out so well. Maybe thatâ??s because I donâ??t view these two men in quite the same black and white manner as is presented by David Brooks. Brooks ostensibly is trying to show their weaknesses and strengths, â??their two different sorts of minds.â?

The atmosphere of Kerry's mind is rationalistic. He thinks about how to get things done. He talks like a manager or an engineer.

The atmosphere of Bush's mind is more creedal or ethical. He talks about moral challenges. He talks about the sort of personal and national character we need in order to triumph over our enemies. His mind is less coldly secular than Kerry's, but also more abstracted from day-to-day reality.

Strengths and weaknesses? Or spinning stereotypes? Since when is a â??secularâ? mind cold? Does that by inference make a â??creedal or ethicalâ? mind a warm one? Particularly one with a Right Wing evangelistic creedal â??sensibilityâ?? Why is â??the atmosphere of Bushâ??s mindâ? more â??ethicalâ? than Kerryâ??s? Kerry is â??secularâ? just because he doesnâ??t wear a creed on his sleeve? Is it not possible that Kerry â??thinks about how to get things doneâ? based on an ethical system that values reason as well as faith?

When John Kerry was asked how he would prevent another attack like 9/11, he reeled off a list of nine concrete policy areas, ranging from intelligence reform to training Iraqi troops, but his answer had no thematic summation. If you glance down a transcript of the debate and you see one set of answers that talks about "logistical capacity" or "a plan that I've laid out in four points," or "a long list" of proposals or "a strict series of things" that need to be done, you know that's Kerry speaking.

If, on the other hand, you see an answer that says, "When we give our word, we will keep our word," you know that is Bush.

Yes, that lip service would fit the so-named â??creedal or ethicalâ?-minded Bush.

Nonetheless, I suspect that the reason Bush's approval ratings hover around 50 percent, despite a year of carnage in Iraq, is because of the reason many of us in the commentariat don't like to talk about: in a faithful and moralistic nation, Bush's language has a resonance with people who know that he is not always competent, and who know that he doesn't always dominate every argument, but who can sense a shared cast of mind.

And, this â??shared cast of mindâ? is precisely what concerns me. It concerns me that because Kerry is not proselytizing a specific religious morality, some would view his rationality as â??coldly secular.â?


Spin on, Mr. Brooks.

Topics: 

"Cupcake" is no piece of cake

Martha Stewart will be serving her five-month sentence at Alderson minimum security prison in West Virginia. Alderson has been dubbed "camp cupcake" due to its low security. But in spite of no wire fences to keep prisoners in, escape is considered a felony offense.


Alderson was the first federal prison for women. Despite the intent of the original prison reformers "to protect women inmates from the exploitation of male inmates and staff and to provide a homelike communal setting with provisions for nurseries and childcare to women sentenced to prison," Alderson "came under the authority of the US Bureau of Prisons in 1930," and "over the years, a power and control model has replaced the 'women's sphere' envisioned by Aldersonâ??s founders," according to Clare Hanrahan, a former inmate. Hanrahan further states:

Many of the correctional officers and administrative personnel at Alderson and throughout the federal Bureau of Prisons are former military. They enforce the petty and demeaning rules, patrol the corridors, guard women while they sleep, and walk in and out of the sleeping quarters, shower and toilet rooms of captive women at will.

At Alderson women are subjected to head counts six times daily, and during midnight and early morning bed checks, male officers often pull back the sheets of sleeping women with the excuse, "We must see flesh, ladies," to verify the head count.

Women are stripped of all personal items on arrival and issued ill-fitting menâ??s military-khaki shirts and jackets as work uniforms and oversized white cotton T-shirts as sleeping gowns, and in the winter men's thermal underwear. Medical care at Alderson and throughout the Federal Bureau of Prisons is minimal, often delayed, seldom results in restoration of health, and sometimes is the cause of further medical problems.

Alderson is a work camp; itâ??s a prison. And prisons arenâ??t supposed to be "cupcakes." But people like Aldersonâ??s first superintendent Mary Belle Harris "believed that 'control through care and compassion, rather than terror was most efficacious.'" Of course, how efficacious in every instance has been debated.


Martha Stewart has talked about looking forward to getting her time in prison behind her and reclaiming her good life. Iâ??m wondering how this experience will affect her "good life." Can we expect lots of interviews and maybe a book? Perhaps. But will Stewart really be able to put this experience behind her? I wonder.

Topics: 

Office IM As A License To Bully

Workplace IM is one of those ideas that just won't die. It's made the Red Herring, and it's officially made it into my corporate workplace, so I'm afraid we're not going to see this one just fade away like the fad it should have been.

"The real questions will be whether supervisors seek to employ IM as a monitoring tool," said Jonathan Zittrain, professor and co-director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School.

With IM, employers would be "able to ping employees at any moment, with a very low threshold since no one has to pick up a phone or wander over to a desk," he said. "Employees who would object immediately to a camera monitoring their desk feel IM is far less intrusive."

[Red Herring, "I work, therefore, IM"] [via SoulSoup]

I work for a Major Staffing Services Company, and some folks around here use IM all the time. And they do it for one simple reason: It lets them make people jump. That's why people like it: It gives them power over others. So IM is really just another manifestation of the schoolyard-bully meme that's becoming so prevalent in modern American business. Previously, IM use has been limited to the population of people servicing one particular large client who has an expectation that we use their IM software; now, Corporate IT has pushed MS Messenger out to all of the Corporate-imaged computers, so I know there will be an expectation that we start using it. (Fortunately, my Corporate-imaged computer is so piss-poor that I don't use it, so I get a pass, for a while, at least.)

I had to interact with that sub-population a lot during a recent launch phase, and I can tell you with great confidence that getting the message to me via IM did not improve their chances of a quality resolution. In fact, it arguably decreased them, because I would continually have to shift focus to deal with new problems.

On the average, it takes something like 7 minutes to recover context and return to the previous state on a complex task after you take an unexpected phone call; the numbers for IM can't be a hell of a lot better. So IM is terribly disruptive and time-wasting.

Put succinctly: IM is a thoughtfulness-killer. There truly are very very few business needs that are so important that you have to IM, but not so important you can't pick up the phone. Yes, the phone takes more prep and concentration. That's a good thing; it means you use it less.

Since it's so commonly a power-trip, IM also drives the workplace further in the direction of being a war of all against all. That's not how work gets done. Work gets done through a combination of cooperation, and letting people get work done.

"I fault this president for not knowing what death is"

E.L. Doctorow looks to the President, and the consequences of his nature, with a novelist's eye:

.... there is one more terribly sad thing about all of this. I remember the millions of people here and around the world who marched against the war. It was extraordinary, that spontaneous aroused oversoul of alarm and protest that transcended national borders. Why did it happen? After all, this was not the only war anyone had ever seen coming. There are little wars all over he world most of the time.

But the cry of protest was the appalled understanding of millions of people that America was ceding its role as the last best hope of mankind. It was their perception that the classic archetype of democracy was morphing into a rogue nation. The greatest democratic republic in history was turning its back on the future, using its extraordinary power and standing not to advance the ideal of a concordance of civilizations but to endorse the kind of tribal combat that originated with the Neanderthals, a people, now extinct, who could imagine ensuring their survival by no other means than pre-emptive war.

The president we get is the country we get. With each president the nation is conformed spiritually. He is the artificer of our malleable national soul. He proposes not only the laws but the kinds of lawlessness that govern our lives and invoke our responses. The people he appoints are cast in his image. The trouble they get into and get us into, is his characteristic trouble.

Finally, the media amplify his character into our moral weather report. He becomes the face of our sky, the conditions that prevail. How can we sustain ourselves as the United States of America given the stupid and ineffective warmaking, the constitutionally insensitive lawgiving, and the monarchal economics of this president? He cannot mourn but is a figure of such moral vacancy as to make us mourn for ourselves.

[E.L. Doctorow, "The Unfeeling President"] [via MeFi]

Hobbesian Market Theory

The religions of Free-Marketism and Libertarianism, to the extent that they are espoused by the Bushite regime, are fundamentally informed by what academics call "Neoliberalism", which "... focuses on the establishment of a stable medium of exchange, and the reduction of localized rules, regulations and barriers to commerce, and the privatization of state run enterprises." The theory is that "unnatural" impediments to market function, like "localized rules" and other "trade barriers", minimum wage laws, centralized systems of social welfare, etc., will produce inefficiencies; as markets are made more efficient, capital will seek its level, flowing (in part) outward from the industrialized nations, and trickling down to the lower echelons of society -- and all will benefit.

The doctrines appeal to the Anglo-American obsession with "fairness": On a level playing field, everyone would get what they deserved. In practice, capital tends to accumulate in the hands of elites, and stay there, and neo-liberal regimes result in a war of all against all, enforced by the implicit rules of the new system -- as Pierre Bordieu described in 1998:

Thus the absolute reign of flexibility is established, with employees being hiring on fixed-term contracts or on a temporary basis and repeated corporate restructurings and, within the firm itself, competition among autonomous divisions as well as among teams forced to perform multiple functions. Finally, this competition is extended to individuals themselves, through the individualisation of the wage relationship: establishment of individual performance objectives, individual performance evaluations, permanent evaluation, individual salary increases or granting of bonuses as a function of competence and of individual merit; individualised career paths; strategies of "delegating responsibility" tending to ensure the self-exploitation of staff who, simple wage labourers in relations of strong hierarchical dependence, are at the same time held responsible for their sales, their products, their branch, their store, etc. as though they were independent contractors. This pressure toward "self-control" extends workersâ?? "involvement" according to the techniques of "participative management" considerably beyond management level. All of these are techniques of rational domination that impose over-involvement in work (and not only among management) and work under emergency or high-stress conditions. And they converge to weaken or abolish collective standards or solidarities (3).

In this way, a Darwinian world emerges - it is the struggle of all against all at all levels of the hierarchy, which finds support through everyone clinging to their job and organisation under conditions of insecurity, suffering, and stress. Without a doubt, the practical establishment of this world of struggle would not succeed so completely without the complicity of all of the precarious arrangements that produce insecurity and of the existence of a reserve army of employees rendered docile by these social processes that make their situations precarious, as well as by the permanent threat of unemployment. This reserve army exists at all levels of the hierarchy, even at the higher levels, especially among managers. The ultimate foundation of this entire economic order placed under the sign of freedom is in effect the structural violence of unemployment, of the insecurity of job tenure and the menace of layoff that it implies. The condition of the "harmonious" functioning of the individualist micro-economic model is a mass phenomenon, the existence of a reserve army of the unemployed.

[Pierre Bordieu, "The essence of neoliberalism", Le Monde Diplomatique, December 1998] [Courtesy "Candida Cruikshanks" via The Tutor]

Jack London noticed the same thing a hundred years ago; it can be seen as another way of keeping us asking the wrong questions. If we're busy protecting our assets (or the assets of our loved ones), then we're too busy to see what's really going on.

But if we can choose to live in this un-natural way (and anyone who doesn't see that it's unnatural is ignorant of basic ethology), then we can choose to live in ways that will not leave us as miserable as this way does.

This here Bordieu fella may be some kind of po-mo froggy intellectual, but he sure can talk some sense when he wants to.

Lies

We humans lie. We are all very capable of white lies and even more colorful ones. We lie to others and we lie to ourselves. Some lies are told so as not to offend others and some lies can cause varying degrees of injury.


But is lying becoming a new trend,... the hottest rage?

People are fascinated with lies. And that's because lies, while often dangerous, can also be interesting and entertaining. [â??Lies, and the blogging bloggers who blog about them,â? The Church of Critical Thinking, August 11, 2004]

This is nothing new, is it? Perhaps what is a new trend is the amount of attention devoted to blogging about liars.

So with all this lying going on, how is a person supposed to keep track of it all? I mean, it's tough enough just keeping track of the truth!

Well that's where the internet comes in. Thankfully, there are dedicated souls out there who are out to reveal the lies we hear on a daily basis.

Unquestionably, my day wouldnâ??t be complete without the latest dose of who is lying to whom during this election year.

With so many liars out there, it's more important than ever to keep your Critical Thinking cap on tight. You won't always know who's telling you the truth, and who's telling you lies. But it's certain that many people are lying, and that eventually you will end up believing someone who is lying to you. Similarly, you're bound to find yourself suspicious of someone who is in fact telling the truth.

As a child, I was occasionally told to put on my â??thinking capâ? when trying to solve a problem. But, I surely donâ??t remember paranoia as a component in the process. Where will it all end? A life that is a carefully honed lie? Is lying more entertaining than telling the truth?


The antiseptic sting of truth telling is far too painful for many to bear, if indeed we are even capable of getting facts straight. Regardless of philosophersâ?? never-ending quest to decode unconcealed, transparent truth, there is still the very clearly identifiable variety of conscious lying directly intended to harm. And that sort of lying I find unconscionable.

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More On Grover's World

Another point that deserves to be called out from the AnomalousData piece:

.... We live in Eden Prairie, MN. George W Bush came to our high school and lauded it as a model for all school systems everywhere...presumably due to the fact that it is in a tremendously affluent and conservative suburb, and continues to pump out high-quality graduates despite being severely under-funded.

(... and by that token a model for the post-revolution era when Government has been drowned in the bathtub...but let's continue:)

(I can tell you how they do this in another article. But mostly, it has to do with teachers spending out-of-pocket for classroom supplies, parents donating supplies, a legion of parent volunteers in lieu of staff, and parents spending about as much time and energy teaching their kids at home as they do earning money at work, endless fundraisers, and an endless stream of nickel-and-dime fees that donâ??t seem like much individually, but add up to a lot over time...oh yeah, and deferring essential building maintenance for the past few years.)

Since I'm assuming today that people don't really thing through what they read, I'll spell out the implications of this: If school districts have to fund themselves through parental contributions, then districts populated by wealthy families will have better facilities than those with middle-class families.

(I'm using "middle class" rather than "poor" here to drive home the fact that this is really all about a war by the elite against the bourgeousie. They don't give a crap -- aren't even afraid of -- the poor. It's the middle class that they fear. Marx was right about that much.)

Why do we find it so difficult to understand that Neo-Conservatism is a vicious and anti-democratic strain of elitism?

[De]Mystification Exercise for the Day

It's been clear to me for many years that people seldom act in their own interest. Even that they often act against their stated interest. People in general just don't pay so much attention to things that they really understand what's going on.

Put another way: When you ask people what they think, then watch what they do, you get anomalous data.

A parent in Eden Prairie, MN, writes of an exercise in such anomalous data generation, using a class of 11 year old students in Eden Prarie MN:

The teacher told of an exercise wherein he read from both the Bush and Kerry websites. He read where each of the candidates stood on the main issues of the campaign. He didnâ??t say who was who...just "this is what candidate one says, this is what candidate two says".

The kids made tally marks about each thing they agreed with from each candidate.

Then the kids voted on the issues.

Four kids voted for Bush. 26 kids voted for Kerry.

You have to realize the significance of this. We live in Eden Prairie, MN. George W Bush came to our high school and lauded it as a model for all school systems everywhere...presumably due to the fact that it is in a tremendously affluent and conservative suburb, and continues to pump out high-quality graduates despite being severely under-funded.

.... Eden Prairie has grown a crop of Bush/Cheney yard signs that rivals the corn crops of neighboring rural towns. This is Bush country, make no mistake about itâ?¦

...as illustrated by the fact that most of the kids who voted for John Kerry were greatly upset by it. They booed the results of their vote. They were upset that they had voted for the "wrong guy".

[many ellipses are author's, in lieu of dashes]

"This is why we don't allow 11 year olds to vote," comments one reader. "They are short term thinkers, and generally don't have a concept of the larger picture, especially since very few, if any, have paid any taxes." A 'concept of the larger picture' would presumably allow them to understand that, despite the fact that they agree with John Kerry on most of the points they think are important, Bush is still the better candidate -- presumably for some reason related to taxes. Oh, yeah: That he's (supposedly) cutting the taxes they'd pay if they were grownups.

The fact that he's rich, powerful, and emblematic of what all good middle-class kids are supposed to want to be when they grow up, might possibly have something to do with it.

Oh, and, by the way, the parents were none-too-pleased with this little exercise. But the teacher reassured them:

The teacher went on to say that he assured the kids that the election was not yet over, and that there still might be many issues where they would agree with George W. Bush, and maybe when they tried again later, they would end up voting for him.

The parents looked relieved as well.

The gears that had begun to grind uncomfortably in their heads smoothed out and they relaxed.

We moved on to talk about other things, and everyone was happy.

The end.

So all is well in Eden Prarie. At least one classroom has been saved from the hell of cognitive dissonance that results from excessive self-knowledge. As we all know, too much self-examination, like too much "self love", will make you go blind. Or something.

The Next Cluetrain Test

Microsoft Windows XP SP2 will be an important, but probably un-noticed, watershed in the progress of the "cluetrain".

I've yet to see a major case where "cluetrain" customer/user-emplowerment juju actually had an impact on any company's actions. There are lots of cases on the books of products doing poorly, but the vast majority are the same traditional feedback mechanism: The product sucks, people don't use it, the product fails; or, the product is poorly marketed (Coke C2? New Coke?), people don't buy it, the product fails.

A cluetrain feedback loop would be different. It would mean that net-empowered buyers (which doesn't necessarily mean internet-empowered buyers) had acted consciously -- as opposed by passibly, by simply not buying -- to make the product fail. That action could be in the form of spreading word of the product's suckfulness via some network; in the pure Cluetrain vision, that network would be a human network, enabled by technology. (Side snark: Which network will shortly be owned and controlled by Google...)

Cluetrain thinking is quite a bit like Marxism or "singularity" theory, in that it presumes the inevitability of something which a little basic observation and some applied knowledge of human nature would tell you is highly unlikely. "But it's emergent," is one common (if foggy) response. "You won't be able to predict the shape of the future from the present." "But from what will it emerge?" would be my response. I've yet to see an "emergent phenomenon" that couldn't be traced back to properties of its culture medium.

So, what the hell does all this have to do with Microsoft? Well, they've decided not to bother doing security patches on IE for anything but XP, once they release SP2. (At least, that's what I think they mean; they might mean they're stopping now.) Many see this as a calculated move to incentivize paid upgrades (XP SP2 won't be free -- it will cost $99 for most XP users). If so, it's a very calculated move, based on the idea that they don't need to care anymore how people feel about Microsoft. It's Rock v. Hard Place. It means they think they're winning the anti-Linux fight (which may well be true).

If the Cluetrain is what it's boosters have always said it is, it will stop this, and what's more, it will stop this in a particular way: It will wound Windows XP via Market Forces. Microsoft's sales of SP2 will be poor, Linux and Mac adoption will rise sharply, and Market Forces will drive radical improvements in the usability of Linux desktops. Or MS will "get on the cluetrain" and cancel plans to charge for SP2, at least -- and ideally, continue to distribute updates for Win2K. (Which is a better OS, anyway -- though it doesn't have all those wonderful hooks for MS lock-in...)

Now, I actually think it's pretty likely that XP users will be getting SP2 for free. Whether MS continues to update Win2K is another matter. This will happen because their corporate customers will communicate their profound disappointment, and telegraph a willingness to migrate to Firefox or Googlezilla. Is this a manifestation of the Cluetrain in action? I don't know; it would tend to support the view that the "cluetrain" is nothing new or emergent, if it were, because changing plans based on Big Customer feedback is as old as the PC industry, and is mediated not by networking but by traditional sales channels. And the reaction would be just exactly as little as Microsoft has to give up to get what they want.

Now, all that snark having been levelled, I would love to see MS take a hard line on this. Because it would force the watershed, and make it that much more visible. Such a watershed would place more pressure on the open-source communities to come up with alternatives, whatever those might be. But whether those alternatives are really better and more empowering than Microsoft is another matter. Given the exclusive choice between a joyless overlord despised by most who still knows relatively little about me, and a beloved overlord who knows my every browsing habit, I'll pick the former -- Microsoft -- every time.

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