Saturday, March 01, 2003


People without principles rely on a left-right spectrum.

In a recent vanity column, USA Today's unnervingly tan founder Al Neuharth offers this spin:

USA Today is middle-of-the-road, properly skeptical, yet generally upbeat. The Wall Street Journal is ultra-conservative, especially cautious on money matters. The New York Times is ultra-liberal, often cynical about establishment things.

This is shamelessly self-serving, and betrays a dangerous lack of self-consciousness. It's also a clumsy example of Hegel's Bluff.

This is the classic maneuver in which you defend your position by finding someone -- anyone -- to your left and labeling them "extremist." Then do the same with someone, anyone, to your right. The goal is to frame the question as: "Who are you gonna believe? The Nazis, the Commies, or reasonable centrist me?"

(The name "Hegel's Bluff" comes from the way this portrays those who disagree with you as "thesis" and "antithesis," while portraying your own position as "synthesis" -- the culmination of history and all human understanding.)

Neuharth, like many political observers and actors in America, is obsessed with refining gradations of left to right. This is a result of the drifting desperation that comes from having no other principles to serve as points of reference.

posted by Fred Clark 4:48 PM


The following, unedited, is an actual, real-life, unembellished letter to the editor from today's News Journal. (Where's Steve Allen when we need him?)

I was reminiscing with a friend when I have arrived at the conclusion that people today are soft. I can remember when we could get around in the snow. I went to work across the Delaware Memorial Bridge with chains on the car tires. When I was very young, I trudged to school in knee-high snow because we'd didn't have snow days. I went to high school on a city bus. During the 1940s, '50s and early '60s, we had snow on the ground all winter long. To hear people today tell it, we lived dangerously. I wonder why we're still living.

Frances Kesner, Wilmington

posted by Fred Clark 2:06 AM

Friday, February 28, 2003


From Eric Danton of the Hartford Courant:

Although he was 74 when he died Thursday of stomach cancer, that was just a number - Mr. Rogers was ageless, really. He was always older than our parents, but not quite as old as our grandparents. ...

And from Neal Pollack:

Hello, everyone. I know you're very sad about my passing. Well, I'm sad, too. I loved being alive very much, and I was very lucky to have lived the life I did. ...

If you're curious, heaven is very pleasant. King Friday is here, and so is Henrietta Pussycat. We've been getting reacquainted over soy milk and cookies. ... God is kind, like I expected, but he's not very good at bowling.

UPDATE: Just two more, this and this from Sisyphus Shrugged.

posted by Fred Clark 2:13 PM


Michael King, news editor of the Austin Chronicle, cuts through much of the politeness surrounding America's death penalty in an LA Times commentary:

When it comes to the death penalty, Texas is in fact more Southern than Western: The Southern states (primarily the old Confederacy) have accounted for about 80% of the 832 executions nationwide since 1976. Because a greatly disproportionate number of the condemned are black or brown and poor, it doesn't take a great leap of imagination to comprehend the historical circumstances that have led the Deep South states down this path.

But the Southern states do not have a monopoly on Klan Kountry or on the history of lynching that continues to this day in one form or another, as this ACLU report points out: 70 percent of those on death row here in Pennsylvania are minorities. Is "lynching" too strong a word?

While white victims account for approximately one-half of all murder victims, 81% of all Capital cases involve white victims. Furthermore, as of October 2002, 12 people have been executed where the defendant was white and the murder victim black, compared with 178 black defendants executed for murders with white victims.

Many principled people support the death penalty in America, making principled, abstract arguments. Such arguments are rather beside the point. Abstractions aside, the reality of the death penalty as practiced in America is all about killing black people and poor white trash.

posted by Fred Clark 12:04 PM

Thursday, February 27, 2003


More on Mr. Rogers

Jeanne d'Arc has two lovely posts remembering Pittsburgh's mystic patron saint of children, the first is here.

The last time I remember seeing the show was months ago, before I had cable. The original shows had stopped, but one of the public television stations was still running the reruns.

Mr. Rogers was taking us along to the grocery store, where he stopped in the dairy aisle and looked down at all the jugs of milk in the big refrigerated case. "I like to look at all these containers of milk," he said in that unhurried voice. "I like to think about how each one of these will go home to a different family. I like to think about all the different people who will come here to buy their milk and all the different homes this milk will end up in."

Then he just stood there and the camera held steady on all the containers of milk with Mr. Rogers standing off to the side looking at them. And he stood there, not speaking, for so long that it became like one of those awkward moments in church where the person leading prayers pauses to allow the congregation to offer their own silent prayers, and you offer your own quick little prayer, but the silence continues even after your prayer is done, and you find yourself in the presence of something holy, unsure of what to say.

That little scene didn't really get under my skin until later in the week. At the grocery store. In the dairy aisle. Looking at all those containers of milk.

posted by Fred Clark 4:09 PM


Bigotry and stupidity in the heart of Richmond.

Here (via Atrios) is a conference of Neo-Confederate types who think John Wilkes Booth was a hero.

In school in New Jersey we were taught three basic facts about the Civil War: 1) Southern states were rebelling over the issue of slavery; 2) they lost; and 3) the war ended in 1865. The "heritage" (wink, wink -- get it? -- "heritage" -- wink, wink) crowd disputes all three of these facts. These are protest cries from the dustbin of history. The objections of the disgraced and the shameless.

Memo to the Richmond bigots: You lost. You lost your treasonous, anti-American rebellion, and -- more important -- you lost the argument. Slavery was wrong. It was the American Holocaust. To the extent that the Southern "way of life" was bound up in racist, chattel slavery, it was a shameful, twisted, oppressive abomination. It was a cultural, intellectual, moral and religious nadir. And put down the Ivanhoe, such a way of life could not -- cannot -- be defended with honor.

For 40 years, German culture has been chastened, humble, introspective and intolerant of those who would speak well of its two decades of madness. Their "heritage" is still being reevaluated -- with heroes of resistance praised, and perpetrators and bystanders condemned without equivocation.

The American (and anti-American) South has not attempted such widespread introspection and still resists such notions of chastened humility -- and it's period of madness lasted for centuries, not decades. (And, yes, the northern states were complicit in this madness, but they've at least been willing to think about it.)

Most, at least, would prefer to forget and move on. But others still seek to celebrate their shame. Are these people simply incapable of shame?

posted by Fred Clark 2:47 PM


The world gets a little less special.

One of the best shows ever on television ends its run May 20.

And one of the best people ever on television has passed away.

Time has a remembrance from one of Fred Rogers' real-life neighbors. This older Christianity Today profile is also a nice portrait.

My favorite remembrance of Mr. Rogers comes from his friend Jonathan Kozol, the aging angry young man who invited Rogers to visit St. Ann's -- the church-based oasis for the forgotten children of the South Bronx for whom Kozol has been an advocate:

Some of the mothers and teenagers at St. Ann's were even more excited to meet Mr. Rogers than the children were. Several said they'd watched his program faithfully when they were children 10 or 20 or even 30 years before. Earlier that day, when he and I were walking from the subway on Brook Avenue, a man driving a sanitation truck pulled over to the curb, climbed down from the truck and gave a hug to Mr. Rogers. People are loyal to their own best memories. ...

"He did look tired," said Katrice [one of the staff at the center]. "He's not young but he paid good attention to the things the children told him. You could see he was happy to be with them.

"You know, Jonathan? They put our children here on the back burner for so long. It meant a lot to me that Mr. Rogers wanted to be with us and did not act hurried or important or superior. I think that he respected what we're doing with the children."

The weariness she saw in Mr. Rogers's eyes was noted by some of the children too while they were sitting with him at the piano in the sanctuary. Some of them remembered later that he had his bow-tie on but that he didn't have his sneakers or his sweater.

They studied his face so carefully that I was afraid they'd make him feel self-conscious, and they worried afterward about his health because he grew a little weak while he was here and had to sit and have some juice and cookies. ...

When Mr. Rogers came here to Mott Haven, there was a stampede of children wanting to be close to him. They treated him as if they'd known him for a long, long time -- which, in a sense, they had. He treated them as if he knew them too. He didn't make a lot of general remarks about them later on. He spoke of individuals.

He knows so much more than most people do about the lives and personalities of children; but he didn't let himself be drawn to any overquick conclusions. He asked the children many questions. He asked the mothers and grandmothers questions too. he gave them time to answer. I never thought about "prescriptive overconfidence" while he was here. I thought of someone walking in the woods and being careful not to step on anything that lives. ...

Mr. Rogers told me once that he regrets the inclination of commercial television "to replace some opportunities for silence" in a child's life with "universal noise." At quiet times, he said, "young children give us glimpses of some things that are eternal" -- glimpses too, he said, "of what unites us all as human beings." He also said that after 40 years of work with children he does not believe that being clever is the same as being wise. ...

I didn't learn until two years ago that Mr. Rogers is a minister. He was ordained in the Presbyterian Church during the early 1960s with a ministry to children. Perhaps it's in the nature of his ministry, or simply of his temperament, to look with caution upon cleverness and certitude and never to be too determined to predict the destination of a journey or a conversation.

He asked me recently if we could go back to St. Ann's together in the spring. He's a modest man. He asked it rather timidly. He said he didn't know if this would be intrusive.

-- from Jonathan Kozol's book Ordinary Resurrections, which you can buy here.

= = = = = = = = = = = =

The official confirmation from Joss Whedon on the end of Buffy. Keep up with all things Whedon here, and you can read about Spike's band here. Sigh.

posted by Fred Clark 2:06 PM


12:01 a.m. Thursday. It's officially "late" in the week.

Not a big deal. Just one more thing that Bush said that turns out not to be so.

"Early next week, working with our friends and allies, we will introduce an additional Security Council resolution that will set out in clear and simple terms that Iraq is not complying with Resolution 1441."

-- George W. Bush, February 22, 2003

posted by Fred Clark 12:05 AM

Wednesday, February 26, 2003


Join the virtual march on Washington.

What better way to try to influence our virtual president?

Hundreds of thousands of constituents from across the country are sending the collective message: Don't Invade and Occupy Iraq. Every Senate switchboard will be lit up throughout the day with our message -- a powerful reminder of the breadth and depth of opposition to a war in Iraq.

Your turn.

posted by Fred Clark 2:25 PM


Time to retire the dead presidents.

According to business columnist Kathy Kristof:

Despite a recent revamp of U.S. bills aimed at thwarting counterfeiting, the manufacture of fake currency is a booming business.

Some $43 million in fake currency was circulated nationwide in 2002, said Philip Elston, assistant to the special agent in charge of the Secret Service's Los Angeles office. That's down from the record year 2001, when more than $47 million in counterfeit currency was passed, but up 40 percent from 1996, when U.S. dollar bills underwent a major redesign to add more security features.

Because of the need to stay ahead of counterfeiters, Kristof reports, the Treasury is considering more frequent and substantial changes in the look and feel of U.S. currency.

... the agency is planning to revamp the currency again this year -- and expects to continue making changes every few years in an effort to stay ahead of printing technology.

Since the Treasury plans this frequent "revamping" anyhow, and since the ongoing 50 State Quarters program has proven popular, educational and fun for the whole family. Why not take the next step?

Why settle for a mere tweaking? Let's go for a total overhaul. Let's introduce a new slate of American bills featuring a new cast of characters:

* * * $1 BILL * * *

Current: George Washington. The hero-general of the revolution and first president of the United States deserves a revered place in the national mythology if only for voluntarily leaving office after two terms. (You haven't really established a democracy until the charismatic and beloved first leader -- Washington, Mandela, whoever -- establishes the precedent and the pattern by voluntarily relinquishing power.) But the guy already has the nation's capital and a state named after him, plus a massive obelisk. Let George keep the quarter, but let's get his face off the $1 bill.

Proposed: Nobody. Get rid of the $1 bill. They keep introducing $1 coins, but for those to have any real chance of catching on, they need to stop producing the bills. Retire the bills and give Sacagawea a real shot. (Downsides:You can't fold the gold dollar coin to turn Sacagawea's head into a mushroom. Exotic dancers may be injured by patrons throwing coins instead of wadded up paper.)

* * * $2 BILL * * *

Current: Thomas Jefferson. Great man. Good president. Wrote the Declaration. His personal library became the Library of Congress. But he's still got the nickel. And a monument. And the congressional Web site. And Clinton's middle name. So his slave-owning self is well-memorialized without needing a bill as well.

Proposed: Emily Dickinson. With one of her poems on the back. (Every year a new poem. Emily's infamously idiosyncratic punctuation and meter will throw off counterfeiters for sure.) Traditionally, people have hoarded $2 bills instead of circulating them. Retiring the $1 bill could change that, but even if it doesn't, Emily didn't get out that much herself, so this still kind of works.

* * * $5 BILL * * *

Current: Abraham Lincoln. As widely honored as he is, Lincoln is the one dead president we probably still don't honor enough. And I'm tempted to keep him on the 5 just to tick off the bigots in Richmond, Va. But the whole idea here is to move away from presidents, so let's honor Lincoln by replacing him with someone in the spirit of the Great Emancipator ...

Proposed: Sojourner Truth. Just because how much fun would it be to ask Senator Lott or Chief Justice Rehnquist if they had change for a ten?

* * * $10 BILL * * *

Current: Alexander Hamilton. I know this is like a Treasury Department thing -- "our founder" and all that, but enough is enough.

Proposed: Ben Franklin. The rare and elitist $100 bill didn't do justice to the popular and populist Franklin. Far and away the funniest of the founding fathers, Franklin deserves to keep his place on the currency not just for his role in the revolution and the birth of the nation, but for all the many other institutions he helped to create and foster -- post offices, fire departments, newspapers, zoos. Plus the stove. And the thing with the kite. (Bonus: Franklin was also an early blogger.)

* * * $20 BILL * * *

Current: Andrew Jackson. Three words: Trail of Tears. Sure Old Hickory earns some props for the Battle of New Orleans, but he was also an infamous Indian-killer. The (largely Baptist) Cherokee of Georgia fought Jackson all the way to the Supreme Court, and won. And how did this great Democrat react when the Court ruled he had no case? "Mr. Marshall has made his ruling, let him enforce it." This was not the behavior of an elected president, but rather of a rogue general -- one whose soldiers oversaw the forced displacement of the Cherokee people in a long march that saw 4,000 dead. Jackson's contempt for the rule of law and the separation of powers was a savage, lethal evil.

(Unlike President Clinton, however, Jackson was not the subject of an eight-year, $60 million investigation. Clinton, after all, received 11 blow jobs. Jackson merely used the military to overrule the Supreme Court, slaughtering thousands of women and children. Clinton was impeached. Jackson was enshrined on the 20. This establishes a basic equation of American moral theory: receiving a single blow job is regarded as a more grievous evil than slaughtering 363.6 Cherokee.)

Proposed: Mark Twain. With Huck and Jim on their raft on the back.

* * * $50 BILL * * *

Current: U.S. Grant. With Ted Turner churning out big bloated epics deifying the generals of the Civil War, Grant's place on the 50 becomes superfluous.

Proposed: Louis Armstrong. Thus maintaining the substance-abuser theme begun with Grant.

* * * $100 BILL * * *

Current: Ben Franklin. See $10 bill above.

Proposed: The $100 bill is large. It contains multitudes. Therefore, Walt Whitman. A big, reckless bill for the big, reckless poet of a big, reckless country.

= = = = = = = = = = = = =

(Note: Credit must go to George Will who, believe it or not, had fun with this idea many years ago. I can't find his original column, but his proposed slate had Louis Armstrong on the $1 bill, plus Thomas Edison, Harriet Tubman and some others you might not expect from the bow-tied corporate apologist.)

posted by Fred Clark 12:45 PM

Tuesday, February 25, 2003


CNN anchor can't wait to get his war on.

As Atrios puts it, go torture Wolf Blitzer.

Today's question:

Should the United States attack Iraq if it fails to destroy its Al Samoud 2 missiles by Saturday?

This is a variation on a theme -- Blitzer's only theme -- namely Wolf's tail-wagging enthusiasm for a war he seems wide-eyed eager to see begin. It's creepy. His nostrils flare and his eyes get all bright, his pupils dilating involuntarily with a scarcely controllable excitement every time he features a story that seems to indicate war is more likely.

And every other day he offers a "Should the U.S. attack Iraq if ..." question:

Should the U.S. attack Iraq if it fails to get a second U.N. resolution?

Should the U.S. attack Iraq if President Bush's poll numbers continue to drop?

Osama bin Laden has released another tape -- should the U.S. attack Iraq?

Norah Jones sweeps the Grammys -- should the U.S. attack Iraq?

Michael Jackson denies he's had plastic surgery -- should the U.S. attack Iraq?

Club owners say Great White did not seek permission to use pyrotechnics, the band disputes this, so should the U.S. attack Iraq?

Wolf, buddy, deep breaths. You'll get your war on soon enough. In the meantime, relax, you're scaring the viewers.

P.S. Speaking of Groucho -- have you seen Tariq Aziz lately? He's even wearing a black beret, and chomping giant cigars.

posted by Fred Clark 5:22 PM


Via DAS News Service:

Kent, Ohio police oversaw the Ashcrofting of Crystal Lynn's snow-woman when a neighbor called to complain about the sculpture's breasts.

Best line in the story:

"He said that I should cut off her breasts, but I said no woman wants that," Lynn, 35, said.

While the police did not threaten Lynn with legal action, their involvement clearly had a chilling effect.

Anyway, Lynn's comment shows how people who view the world through Ashcroft's eyes have recast Jesus' warning in Matthew 5 to read "If someone else's eyes/arms/breasts offend you, cut them off ..."
posted by Fred Clark 3:19 PM

Sunday, February 23, 2003


Gracias Atrios for the most traffic here in a long time.

Regarding the fundamental principle of discrimination (i.e., You're not allowed to kill civilians), one of the earliest arguments for this rule forms the conclusion of an ancient play set in, of all places, Iraq.

Here is the final verse in the book of Jonah:

"And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?"

= = = = = = = = = = = =

Note 1: This doesn't fit exactly with the jus in bello principles -- mainly since the question here is not one of warfare, but one of direct divine judgment a la the days of Noah. Yet the passage clearly makes a distinction that says it's even worse to contemplate the destruction of innocents.

Note 2: The context here is Jonah's pout that God had extended grace to the people Jonah hated. This is right after God sent "a worm" to kill the shade bush under which Jonah sulked. My NRSV offers this footnote for the word "bush" -- "Heb qiqayon, possibly the castor bean plant." That's right -- the castor bean plant: clear evidence that Iraq once had stocks of the toxin ricin.

posted by Fred Clark 4:24 PM

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