Politics, Technology, and Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought — George Orwell

Archive for August, 2007

When is sex politics?

Posted by metaphorical on 30 August 2007

Craig allegedly peeked through a crack in the door and then took the adjoining stall, where he “tapped his right foot” and then moved his foot to touch the officer’s shoe.

Combined with other moves by Craig, Karsnia said, “I recognized this as a signal used by persons wishing to engage in lewd conduct.”

 — Star news services report on 27 August 2007

I talked yesterday to my friend Pam, an ex-girlfriend who relocated to Idaho two decades ago. Apropos of nothing, she asked, “Is the gay Craig fiasco news in New York?” I had to ask her what she was talking about. At first I just assumed she meant one of the many fundamentalist anti-gay gay minister scandals. It turns out she was talking about her U.S. Senator.

Today, though, there’s at least four stories at nytimes.com, including one that’s blurbed on the front page of the print paper. Interestingly, it’s what we call a second-day story….. that is, it’s all about aftermath, and mostly assumes the reader knows the basic facts of the scandal.

I didn’t, not really. (It’s not entirely my fault. An Aug. 28th Editor & Publisher article takes up the question of “How Did News Outlets Miss Senator’s Arrest for Nearly Three Months?”)

Anyway, here’s what happened. On 11 June, Craig entered a stall in a restroom at the Minneapolis airport and checked out his stallmate for a sexual encounter. He was arrested, and, earlier this month, pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct. A USA Today story notes that that charge requires conduct that “will tend to, alarm, anger or disturb others or provoke an assault or breach of the peace” and questions whether any of his behaviors meets that standard.

The Seattle Times gives more of the mating ritual details than the Star news service:

According to the report, an undercover officer entered an airport restroom stall on June 11 and saw Craig standing outside for about two minutes. “Craig would look down at his hands, fidget with his fingers and then look through the crack into my stall again,” wrote the officer, Sgt. Dave Karsnia.

The officer said Craig entered the next stall and placed his roller bag against the door. “My experience has shown that individuals engaging in lewd conduct use their bags to block the view from the front of their stall,” the officer wrote.

The officer said Craig tapped his right foot, “a signal used by persons wishing to engage in lewd conduct. … [Craig] moved his right foot so that it touched the side of my left foot which was within my stall area.”

Craig then passed his left hand under the stall divider into Karsnia’s stall with his palm up and guided it along the divider toward the front of the stall three times, the complaint said.

[UPDATE: Pam sent a link to some audio of Craig's arrest interview, made available by KTVB in Boise.]

The second-day developments are these: Mitt Romney has distanced himself from Craig with the same speed he would presumably use to get away from someone making restroom advances toward him. Craig was co-chair of the U.S. Senate Mitt Romney for President campaign. Craig has already given up his position on one Senate committee, and some senators, including Republican ones, are calling for Craig to step down. They may or may not be influenced by the coincidence that this summer, the head of McCain’s Florida campaign was charged with soliciting gay sex in the restroom of a public park. (Oh, and Guiliani’s Southern regional campaign chair’s name was one of the many on the D.C. Madame’s rolodex, and his campaign’s South Carolina chair has been indicted on drug charges.)

Craig is regretting his guilty plea and, absurdly, blaming the Idaho Stateman for its “witch hunt.” (As it turns out, the paper didn’t print anything until the senator pleaded guilty.)

The Editor & Publisher’s question about how this went unreported for three months is just the tip of the iceberg.

Detailed accusations against Craig had been available since last year through an Internet-based activist who had a hand in outing several Republican politicians, including former Rep. Mark Foley, the focus of a House page scandal.

The activist, Mike Rogers, went public last October with allegations that Craig engaged in sexual encounters with at least three men, including one who said he had sex with Craig twice at Washington’s Union Station.

The Idaho Statesman went even further back into Craig’s life, talking to other men who claimed they were solicited by him.

It also mentioned a scandal in 1982, in which a male page reported having sex with three congressmen, and Craig — although not named by the youth — issued a statement denying any wrongdoing.

Rogers noted that some politicians, when confronted with evidence about same-sex encounters, have acknowledged their homosexuality — such as Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and the late Rep. Gerry Studds (D-Mass.).

Others persist in denial, and Rogers contends they are fair game for exposure if they vote against gay-rights causes.

That is, then, the question. Are those of us who, say, argued that Clinton’s sexual proclivities weren’t proper fodder for a independent prosecutor’s investigation, in a position to turn around and go after Craig for his? The obvious answer is that Craig is the one who has, for decades, argued for making the details of someone’s sexual interests a matter of concern for the body politic. Clinton did not.

Slate’s John Dickerson picked up on that theme effectively in an article yesterday:

Nick Gillespie, the editor of Reason, seized on the Craig affair to make a version of this argument in the Los Angeles Times, where he said that the GOP should get back to its fundamental principles as articulated by Barry Goldwater. Republicans should stop trying to tell people what to do in their bedrooms and bathrooms, either by stinging a Singing Senator or passing an amendment banning gay marriage. This drew criticism from the National Review’s John Hood, who argued that Gillespie had misappropriated the memory of Barry Goldwater. “I’m going to go out on a not-very-long limb here and suggest that if Sen. Goldwater was still around,” wrote Hood, “he’d be urging Craig to take personal responsibility for the disrepute he has brought upon himself and the Senate.”

We don’t have to guess about what Goldwater would do. During the 1964 presidential campaign, he faced almost precisely the same issue. In October, the Goldwater campaign learned that Walter Jenkins, LBJ’s closest aide, had been arrested on a “morals charge” in the YMCA bathroom. According to J. William Middendorf’s account of that campaign, A Glorious Disaster, Goldwater’s aides wanted to use the scandal against Johnson, who was well ahead in the polls. Jenkins was not only a security risk—open to blackmail— but long before he was arrested, there were allegations he’d used his influence with then-Vice President Johnson to get an Air Force general who had been busted on a morals charge reinstated. The Goldwater aides even tried out slogans: “Either way with LBJ.” Goldwater insisted that they make no use of it. The story never came up during the campaign.

This may say more about Goldwater’s personal decency than it does about his governing philosophy. Jenkins had served in Goldwater’s Air Force Reserve Unit, and as Goldwater later wrote, “It was a sad time for Jenkins’ wife and children, and I was not about to add to their private sorrow. Winning isn’t everything. Some things, like loyalty to friends or lasting principle, are more important.” Mitt, you’re no Barry Goldwater.

Neither is Larry Craig. Oh, and by the way Pam, yes, the Craig story has hit New York. Finally.

Posted in journalism, language, politics, religion, Times-watch | 3 Comments »

Apples to elephants

Posted by digglahhh on 25 August 2007

To only Dick Cheney’s surprise, Fox News’s answer to The Daily Show, The ½ Hour News Hour has been cancelled. The show’s last episode is set to air on September 16th. I can’t speak about the quality of the show, as I have only seen about half of a single episode. Many lefty blogs claimed that the show was unfunny, uncreative and not entertaining, strange since conservatives are known for their incredible senses of humor and lefty blogger are known for their sense of objectivity. Anyway, the little bit that I caught didn’t seem to be any worse than the vast majority of other comedy shows I’ve stumble upon, up and down the dial.

Regardless of its comedic value, or lack thereof, the fact that this showed aired on Fox News was an affront to news networks as a form of journalism. Even one who agrees with the underlying views of the show should find it improper, distasteful, and debasing to a news network. While marketed as an antidote to The Daily Show, and a response to the alleged uproar calling for conservative satire, the key difference here is that The Daily Show is aired on Comedy Central. Couldn’t Murdoch or any of his higher-ups just broadcast this show on one of the other dozens of channels owned under the Fox umbrella? Perhaps one not devoted to airing actual news…

Conservatives constantly charge the media with being biased toward the liberals. “The liberal media” has even become something of an accepted phrase. But, “the liberal media” has never resorted to broadcasting a show on a news network that undermines the idea of exclusively news-based content in order to mock their political opponents. The airing of this show was the most explicitly partisan-biased stance I’ve ever seen a news network take.

Jon Stewart often finds himself in the middle of these apples-to-oranges comparisons. On that now famous appearance on Crossfire, Stewart had to remind Tucker Carlson (who was grilling Stewart for not asking John Kerry hard-enough hitting questions) that the name of his network had the word “comedy” in it and that the show preceding his was “puppets making crank phone calls.”

The comparison is invidious anyway; Stewart is not nearly as partisan as Fox’s reaction show seemed to be. There is little, if any, chance that The Daily Show morphs into a continuous coronation ceremony for the Dems if they take the office in 2008. The systemic absurdity of our political culture is fully bipartisan, after all, and what comic deliberately cuts his potential material in half?

Somehow, criticizing the system has become an act branded as liberal. That raises two points. One, it follows that corrupting that system is part of the conservative agenda. If raising issues about, and calling for investigations into, say, vote count accuracy is “liberal, then, by extension, is disregard for vote-count accuracy and election transparency conservative? Those who make such accusations of The Daily Show rarely consider the implications about their positions that come from the creation of a dichotomy.

Two, what does it say about the political make-up of the media itself, that something like The Daily Show can be branded so blatantly leftist? Would a media comprised mainly of wingnut lefties (as the right likes to imply) consider a relatively rational and subdued comedy show to be stark, raving leftist? Do you know any real lefties watch this show and marvel at how progressive it is? Of course, not! Now, would The Daily Show appear that way, by contrast, to one whose internal political compass was calibrated way toward the right? Probably. Where along the political spectrum is the “center” if a show like The Daily Show registers way left of that center?

Let me spell it out for you; the media is so heavily controlled by the right that they have been able to successfully convince people that the industry is controlled by the left. We have been told that The New York Times is a leftist institution. Yeah, compared to The Heritage Foundation

The people who accuse the media of liberal bias don’t see anything wrong with airing a Dem-bashing satire on a news network to offer a rebuttal to a moderate satire aired on a comedy network. Trying to kill an ant with a sledgehammer, huh… What party does that remind you of? Still not sure, well let me remind you that the show’s cancellation is confirmation that the ants are once again outsmarting the sledgehammer’s wielder.

Posted in digglahhh, journalism, politics, pop culture | Leave a Comment »

The parable of the Cosmo girl and the NYC boy

Posted by digglahhh on 19 August 2007

About a week and a half ago my friend called me at work and asked if I wanted to go out for drinks with him and a few of his co-workers after work. He works in Finance, and probably makes something north of double my salary. When I met the group, he said that they had decided to check out an outdoor bar nearby; they had never been there, but heard good things. “We’ll go for a drink, if we don’t like it, we’ll hit an old reliable spot.” Fine by me; we were off.

My friend said that the first round was on him, he ordered two lagers and the bartender told him it was $14. At that point I asked the bartender when the Mets were due to arrive. Seven dollar beers need to come with a professional baseball game, but he didn’t get the joke and stared back at me blankly, his freshly groomed eyebrows partially raised. I made it clear to my friend that if we decided to stay, I would buy him back for the next round and then leave; I’m not drinking seven dollar beers.

While standing by the bar, his co-worker approached, looking fresh out of college. She proceeded to order a Grey Goose dirty martini. The price was something ridiculous, thirteen dollars, if I remember correctly. That began an exchange that I find humorous, and my friend characterizes as a reason why he’s always reluctant to bring me around his co-workers. It went something like this:

Digglahhh: Ouch!

Presumed avid TMZ reader co-worker: What?

D: That’s a lot of money for a drink.

PATRCW: Oh, you’ll get used to it, how long have you been in the city?

D: Um, roughly since before you were born. I’ve been drinking in this city since you were passing notes that said “Do you like me? Check box, yes or no.”

Yes, I was mean. And, yes, I meant to be. Don’t give me anything about not giving her a chance; fuck people like this! People come to be big city and think getting fucked over like a tourist is part of the experience, and that I’m some uninitiated hick because I don’t bend over for some top shelf (but pedestrian) liquor at a faux-chic NYC bar. Let me assure you sweetie, there is nothing NYC-ish about getting economically exploited because you are unable to process the notion that Carrie Bradshaw and the gals were fictional characters. Furthermore, there’s something highly ironic about being cool with dropping thirteen bucks on a drink, and assuming the naivete of somebody who finds that ridiculous.

To some, everything is a status symbol, on one level or another. The Yuppie lifestyle, admixed with capitalist competitiveness, is a bright orange blinking sign flashing “Rip Me Off,” and the victims seem to relish wearing it, perhaps because they derive some sort of pathological validation of success from it. Being able to afford thirteen dollar drinks is seen an affirmation of your financial status, not of your gullibility, stupidity, or shallow nature. When I say that our culture is poisoned and that voting can’t even begin to rectify the dysfunctional programming of our society, this is the type of behavior that I am referring to. On small scales, you can see it non-stop, every single day.

One of the things that makes capitalism an endless treadmill to nowhere is the fact that everything begins to inherit status value. As people climb the economic ladder, they simply raise their standard of living at the same rate, meaning they are still reliant upon their well-paying job to support their lifestyle, and fail to gain nearly as much financial stability as they could. There has to be a reason to keep playing the game when you don’t have to anymore. Enter two hundred dollar theatre tickets, 30,000 annual tuition bills from school churning out twenty-two year old girls comfortable with thirteen dollar drinks (aspiring to be forty year old women comfortable with four hundred dollar haircuts), and the myriad other forms of commodity fetishism, and the treadmill gets them to work 65 hour weeks to achieve such “dreams.”

Luckily, nobody was particularly attached to the place, and once my friend’s girlfriend met up with us, we decided to head elsewhere. We finished the evening at a dive bar that offered five dollar, 32oz beers – much more our style. His co-worker nursed mixed drinks, but seemed to be having a fine time. At the end of the evening we stumbled into a cab, which he proceeded to expense to his employer. Employees at his job are supposed to be in at 8:30 in the morning. The next morning, he called me at about a quarter after nine, just to tell me that his coworker wasn’t in yet.

Here’s something they need to teach you in the boondocks, homegirl. You show up and work hard in the morning, no matter how hard you partied the night before.

Posted in language | 7 Comments »

11:59

Posted by metaphorical on 17 August 2007

“Not only is it the 11th hour, but it’s 11:59″
— the documentary The 11th Hour

The movie The 11th Hour is opening this weekend. Although I had a couple of negative things to say about it in a review I wrote at my magazine, overall, I can only recommend in the strongest terms that you go see it.

Time’s Up?

A new documentary considers humanity’s dubious future

The movie starts where An Inconvenient Truth leaves off, that is, by assuming the truth of global warming and human responsibility for at least a large share of it. After reviewing the 200-year-old Industrial Revolution’s buildup of greenhouse gases, the movie moves on to other assaults on the environment: the destruction of rain forests and resulting deserts and drought; water pollution and overfishing of the oceans; corporate free riding on the externalities of pollutions of all kinds; and the consumer culture by which we vote with our pocketbooks to continue to trash the world instead of restoring it. These are long-established concerns but packaged in vivid new ways. “Logging in Canada,” the film offers by way of example, “puts as much carbon into the atmosphere as all of the cars in California every year.”  more

MoveOn is promoting the film, and a trailer (which is also also below) and more information can be found at the movie’s website. (Unfortunately, the movie site doesn’t have a theatre locator, instead you have to sign up for SMS and e-mail updates. Instead, just use a regular locator, such as Moviefone’s, here.)

Posted in Orwell, politics, technology | Leave a Comment »

Dick Cheney was right about Iraq

Posted by metaphorical on 15 August 2007

MoveOn is circulating what they call “a pretty remarkable snippet of video” that they came across. They call it, “Help End Dick Cheney’s Quagmire in Iraq.” I would call it, “How Dick Cheney was right about Iraq.” Play it, I think you’ll agree. The man foresaw exactly what would happen.

You have to wonder what if this video had been part of the conversation of the 2004 election?

Posted in Orwell, politics | Leave a Comment »

Update: Antioch faculty sue

Posted by metaphorical on 15 August 2007

Antioch faculty members sue to stop school’s closing

Wednesday, August 15, 2007
YELLOW SPRINGS — — Faculty at Antioch College filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the Antioch University Board of Trustees, seeking to prevent it from closing the college in July 2008.

The lawsuit alleges the board violated several contractual obligations to the faculty in its June 9 decision to temporarily close the college, including shutting it out of institutional decision making.

Antioch officials first announced the closing of the Yellow Springs, Ohio, college two months ago. (Links, details, and a little bit of history are in my “Farewell Antioch” post at the time. There are also a number of truly first-rate comments there.) The announcement of the lawsuit was made in a faculty news release that doesn’t seem to be online.

A story by WTOL-TV, in Toledo, says specifically that:

Faculty members say trustees violated their contract by shutting professors out of institutional decision making.

You might wonder what chance there is of a good outcome. But it seems there are enough people who care, especially among the faculty and alumni, to provide the human and financial power needed to right the capsized Antioch ship. A court could also pry money out of the other Antioch institutions, reversing the flow that created them in the first place. On a scale of 1-10, I would rank the chances as “hopeful.”

What would be the best outcome? Antioch stays open, governed by people who care about it enough to ensure that it stays open, educates its students in a way consistent with its 150-year-old history and values, and continues to win victories for humanity.

Posted in education | 1 Comment »

What’s humane about hunger, disease and cannibalism?

Posted by metaphorical on 12 August 2007

[Cage-free] eggs can cost an extra 60 cents a dozen on the wholesale market. But most chicken farmers are not ripping out cages and retrofitting their barns. They question whether the birds are really better off, saying that keeping thousands of hens in tight quarters on the floor of a building can lead to hunger, disease and cannibalism.
 —  “Suddenly, the Hunt Is On for Cage-Free Eggs, NY Times, 12 August 2007

The NY Times, of all publications, had an article yesterday on the fad of cage-free eggs, but really, all it takes is the one accompanying picture to tell the story.

12eggxlarge1.jpg

The eggs, from chickens raised in large, open barns instead of stacks of small wire cages, have become the latest addition to menus at universities, hotel chains like Omni and cafeterias at companies like Google. The Whole Foods supermarket chain sells nothing else, and even Burger King is getting in on the trend.

All that demand has meant a rush on cage-free eggs and headaches in corporate kitchens as big buyers learn there may not be enough to go around.

Burger King is switching to cage-free eggs but expects only 5 percent to be by the end of this year. Ben & Jerry’s announced their switch earlier this year but said it will take 4 years. Then there’s Wolfgang Puck, operator of a large and growing chain of high-profile restaurants.

This year, the Humane Society convinced the chef Wolfgang Puck that cage-free chickens make better-tasting eggs. Although the look and taste of an egg are most affected by its age and the chicken’s diet, many chefs believe that cage-free eggs are of higher quality. But not all cage-free eggs are equal.

But the Times sang a very different tune in a 26 March editorial.

From time to time, consumers are reminded of the power they have, and the power of the choices they make. There is no better example than the rising popularity of organic food — a matter of conscience and of taste. More and more people are buying local, organic produce and trying to find meat and eggs and dairy products from farms that are not part of the horror of factory farming.

Not surprisingly, people who shop that way also like to dine out that way. That will now be easier thanks to Wolfgang Puck, the universal restaurateur. He has decided that his culinary businesses will now use products only from animals raised under strict humane standards.

I accused them of “gullibility or extreme guile” in a blog entry at the time, and I’m still uncertain which of those faults they’re guilty of here. The meat and dairy industries, either directly or, particularly though supermarket advertising, indirectly, are essential to the Times’s profitability. Yet they want to come off as hip and humane. The current article lets them have it both ways, seeming to be supportive and yet skeptical of increased consumer awareness of the appalling conditions in which animals are manufactured for food.

Instead, the newspaper of record could simply support genuinely humane treatment of animals and accept nothing less in its editorials and advertisements. But that would be taking the bread out of its own corporate maw.

Posted in animal-rights, journalism, language, politics, Times-watch | 7 Comments »

Semantics 756

Posted by digglahhh on 10 August 2007

Okay, so Barry Bonds launched 756 off Mike Bacsik this week. I only mention Bascik’s name to relay the fun fact that Bacsik’s father, of the same name, actually faced Hank Aaron when Aaron had 755 career homers. Also, Clay Hensley, the pitcher who gave number 755 had failed a steroid test when he was in the Minor Leagues. Looks like there was some fate at work, or something. But, anyway, enough of the fun facts and onto the dissection of language.

Throughout this whole debacle, we’ve constantly heard the following words, “(un)ethical,” “(il)legitimate,” “(im)moral,” “(il)legal,” and “cheating (or not).” Many people throw forms of these words around as if they are interchangeable. In fact, they are not. Let’s go through how they relate to the Bonds situation.

“Legitimate” is the simplest of these terms to deal with. Barry Bonds hit (as of today) 757 fair balls over the outfield fences of various Major League ballparks during regular season play. None of the homeruns were fake, or recorded as the result of a clerical error or anything like that. Legitimacy pertains to MLB’s abilities to void the record, and to whether those which were labeled as homeruns really were. The record is “legitimate.”

Next, we have a nexus of similar terms. Let’s get rid of a couple to simplify things. Some people don’t distinguish morality and ethics at all, if so, we can drop the one in favor of the other. To the extent they’re different, morality pertains to your personal views regarding the means by which Bonds has been aided in his achievement of the record, independent of the user or purpose. Personal views are interesting, but not really important.

Then too, one may think that the use of anabolic steroids is immoral because it is illegal. Fine. We’ll turn to the question of legality in a minute.

Cheating and ethics are the two most closely related and tricky terms here. I’m going to collapse them, because cheating is something that seems to have an inherently unethical component. The act of cheating is defined by dishonesty, so it is almost always unethical. I say almost always because an action that is normally unethical can be rendered not so, provided that performing the said action opposes larger or greater unethical behavior. This is the “if you had a chance to kill Hitler argument.” If Barry Bonds was cheating, then his actions were unethical, unless you can argue that he was cheating to right some greater form of wrong.

The above preamble is necessary because of the complications involved in establishing Bonds’s cheating, and its extent. Some try to separate the cheating and the ethics, other than my above explanation, I don’t see how you can really do that. But, here is how people try.

Steroids were not explicitly disallowed by Major League Baseball prior to 2002. Subsequently there has been testing; Bonds has not failed a steroid test (undetectables, I know – but speculation is not evidence). Some argue that if Bonds used, pre-2002, he was not cheating because it was not against the rules, and there wasn’t anything unethical about it because it was not cheating.

That steroids weren’t banned until 2002 is an important point, but it doesn’t absolve Bonds of the charge of cheating. It gets Bonds off the hook on the question of the illegality of his actions – according to MLB, at least. (see, I said I’d come back to that).

But breaking the explicitly stated rules is way too strict an interpretation of cheating. Laws and rules have “spirits,” anybody whose read any of the more famous court cases in this country’s judicial history knows that. Cheating, in terms of this debate, is using disingenuous methods to undermine the spirit of fair competition. This covers loopholes that involved parties would consider cheating (like PEDs), but may spare tactics that some might consider “dirty,” but are not explicitly forbidden, provided the practice is accepted by the participants (e.g. stealing signs). Kind of like the “reasonable citizen” standard…

My characterization merges the cheating and the ethics issue by defining cheating in a sense that considers ethics. Perhaps I need a further argument that Bonds’ cheating was unethical. Okay then, here’s one.

Let’s consider the implications of Bonds’s actions, that is, what they did to the competitive spirit of the game. Those who achieved artificial enhancements from drug use skewed the game to give themselves unfair advantages and they were not forthcoming about it. The fact that they were not banned by the sport doesn’t matter, they contradict the notion of fair competition. They are dangerous, one can’t expect any “reasonable player” to be willing to engage in that practice. That solves the problem of those who claim that Lasik eye surgery, Tommy John surgery and such are unnatural means to enhance one’s abilities. Most importantly, ethics are not defined by the law – specifically, legal loopholes or ambiguities are not ethical loopholes.

So, the highlights/box score:

Record legit? Yes.

Bonds a cheater? Yes.

Means used to help reach the record ethical? No.

Posted in digglahhh, language, sports | 2 Comments »

This year’s dark and stormy night

Posted by metaphorical on 7 August 2007

This year’s Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest winner was announced, and it’s a lulu.

“Gerald began — but was interrupted by a piercing whistle which cost him ten percent of his hearing permanently, as it did everyone else in a ten-mile radius of the eruption, not that it mattered much because for them ‘permanently’ meant the next ten minutes or so until buried by searing lava or suffocated by choking ash — to pee.”

Congrats to Jim Gleeson, 47, of Madison, Wisc.. As the AP story, notes, he “beat out thousands of other prose manglers.” Deservedly so.

Posted in the arts, writing | 2 Comments »

 
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