Notes on the Atrocities
Like a 100-watt radio station, broadcasting to the dozens...

Friday, May 30, 2003  

LITERARY WEEK comes to a close today here on Notes on the Atrocities. Today I am taking a look at some of the ethical considerations bloggers confront. All in all, I'd call it a fairly successful week. Not something to do often, but a nice change up. Based on the number of hits I received over the course of the week, I'd say you were all willing to continue reading, and I thank you for that. (I suppose the readership changed in some large or small way, but hit totals stayed consistent--that does seem less likely, however.)

Monday: Emma posts an okay short story.

Tuesday: The prose of the blog.

Wednesday: The prosification of poetry and poetry's relevance in America after 9/11.

Yesterday: The internet and storytelling. Why hypertext was doomed to fail. What is the future of the internet and fiction? Have any new forms of fiction emerged as a result of digitation [digitalization?]?

posted by Jeff | 3:25 PM |

Ethics and Blogging
This is slightly tangential to our theme here on literary week, but I think it's relevant. As Blogging emerges as a new medium of communication, issues of ethics arise as surely as issues of style and language. Three that I find particularly pressing involve the blogroll, linkage, and anonymity.

The Blogroll
Blogs have innate interest individually, but as a means of communication, they don't become fully realized until they function as part of a network. Or so goes my thinking. Lone blogs are like lone columns--interesting, but not comprehensive. Put several of them together, though, and you have something roughly akin to a newspaper.

When you find a blog you like, then, there's a certain expectation that the links on the blog roll will reflect the tastes and interests of the blogger (or at least that was my expectation when I started reading blogs). But the blogger is beset by a competing desire, as I discovered once I started blogging: to expand readership. Thus, the blogger is immediately confronted with the dilemma about how to get on other bloggers' blogrolls while maintaining a blogroll reflecting her (or his) own personal tastes.

Kos sums it up nicely:

"As you can no doubt tell, I am extremely stingy on links. As a marketing tactic, that's not very smart -- link exchanges are a great way to promote one's site. It's also not the best way to be a good blogosphere citizen -- I should be helping promote new up-and-coming blogs and playing nice with the established ones as well."

Ethically, however, I have one quibble. I think being a good blogosphere citizen means putting up only links to sites you read and enjoy. There's a lot wrong with publishing, but it does have one virtue: it filters. There's no such mechanism in the blogosphere. Anyone who wishes can start a blog--and millions have. It's as if John Updike had no special status over any of the other millions of writers in the world. From a consumer's perspective, that's not a good system--we have to wade through a half million John Smiths before we randomly happen across Updike's book.

Therefore, ethically, I think bloggers are duty bound to constrain themselves to listing only the bloggers they like. Otherwise, the blogosphere will become to chaotic and too thin to function as an independent medium.

Asking for Linkage
If the blogroll is supply-side, then what about demand? That is to say: what's the etiquette regarding the practice of emailing other bloggers and requesting that they link to a post of yours? As blogs proliferate, this is going to become an increasingly pressing question.

My suspicion is that those who have traffic in the thousands or tens of thousands have a different attitude than those with traffic in the tens or hundreds. I think there are some rules of thumb, though, that make good, common sense.

1. Emailing someone a link is fine, but once you've sent the request, your job is done. The reason we mail the links to the more prominent bloggers is that we wish to be seen more broadly. It seems only reasonable to expect that you'll get the link if your post warrants it.

2. Keep it short. For folks receiving buckets of emails every day, keeping it short and to the point is nice.

3. Reciprocity is fair play. Part of being a good blog citizen is noticing good content and referring your audience there.

4. I also think it's a nice gesture to send links out that don’t promote your own site. People have learned that I'm interested in the theocracy meme, and so I often get links from folks who've discovered some source material there. That's great, too.

5. Don't over-email. Sending out a link when you hit on something especially interesting is one thing, but spamming with every post is another.

6. I don't know if this is relevant or not, but I'll mention it: if someone has a commenting feature, use it. That's a nice way of supporting someone's site.

[Update: In an email, Kos suggested a seventh point: "I would add one more item -- if you ask for a link, make sure your subject matter is relevant to the topic of the blog you are approaching. While I can be broadly characterized as a "political" blogger, I consider myself a specialist in elections (despite my notoriety as a "warblogger"). I am far more likely, thus, to link to those who have particular emphasis on elections."]

On Anonymity
If we wish blogging to be a useful and usable medium, don't we have a right to know whose words we're reading? It's a good question. For obvious reasons, I think anonymity has its virtues.

The chief function of a pseudonym is to separate the blogger from the blog. The benefit is that the reader can judge the material on its own merit, without having to take into account the writer's history, biology, or personality. The downside is that there's no context.

I originally started using the Emma Goldman pseudonym when I posted regularly on the Atlantic Monthly message boards. They were at that time dominated by slightly dim conservatives (I haven't been back much since starting the blog). I chose the name to let people know where I was coming from, just by looking at my name. A secondary benefit was that I noticed people tended to speak to me as if I were Jewish and female, exposing their own assumptions. (If I had chosen Che Guevara, as I considered, would they have thought me male and Latino?)

Interestingly, I've discovered that so far, readers in the blogosphere don't tend to hold such solid assumptions going in. If I were to do it all over again, I'd probably just use my real name.

Most bloggers who use pseudonyms do tend to include many facts of their lives. When this happens, we don't have any way of verifying them. I think that after blogging goes through a few more stages, this might create some problems. (Raed, for example, might be an office manager from Topeka.) If it does, I guess we can come out of the dark. Until then, sign me--

Emma Goldman

(Oh, there's also that Ashcroft's America thing, but with the Total--err, Terrorist--Information Awareness thing, I figure there's a dossier in Langley with my real name on it already.)

posted by Jeff | 3:11 PM |

We interrupt our regularly-scheduled programming to bring you these following announcements...

Sorry, as much as I hoped to keep my chin up out of the gutter for an entire week, it was not to be. In two reports published by Financial Times this week, our President was accused of gross misconduct and lies. They appear credible. In the first, which Paul Krugman discusses today, the White House is characterized as having abandoned diplomacy with Iraq in December.

"'There was a feeling that the White House was being mocked,' an individual who worked closely with the National Security Council was quoted as telling the Financial Times.

"'A tinpot dictator (Saddam Hussein) was mocking the president (George W Bush). It provoked a sense of anger inside the White House,' the individual said. 'After that point, there was no prospect of a diplomatic solution.'"

This is, of course, not an incidental revelation. The President repeatedly told anyone who'd listen that he was committed to a diplomatic solution and that "no decision has been made." Moreover, many of us were chilled by the President's language of revenge. He used WMD as a pretext for invasion, but his words belied this justification. Writing on May 7th (because I assume that earlier link is bloggered), I noted:

For Bush, the problem's personal--it's Saddam. In the course of the news conference, the President used the word Saddam or Saddam Hussein 39 times; add to that 6 times he referred to him not by name (though personally) as "dictator." Throughout the entire news conference, the word "Iraq" or its variants only appeared 36 times together--and many of these referred to the "Iraqi people" and so on.

Despite all the talk of disarmament, the danger of the Iraqi regime's weapons and their availability on the open terrorist market, the President will be satisfied if Saddam (not Iraq) disarms or leaves the country. Leaves the country? That's not consistent with anything we've heard from the White House. But it is consistent with getting back at Saddam personally. Which, when you read the transcript, is the unmistakable tell the President gives about his real intention.

If the Financial Times is right, the President lied about WMD to support a war because a "tin-pot dictator" had offended his vanity.

In the second article, the Financial Times reports that Bush buried a key report that the US is facing deficits of $44 trillion. That's right: trillion.

"The study, the most comprehensive assessment of how the US government is at risk of being overwhelmed by the "baby boom" generation's future healthcare and retirement costs, was commissioned by then-Treasury secretary Paul O'Neill.

"But the Bush administration chose to keep the findings out of the annual budget report for fiscal year 2004, published in February, as the White House campaigned for a tax-cut package that critics claim will expand future deficits....

"The study's analysis of future deficits dwarfs previous estimates of the financial challenge facing Washington. It is roughly equivalent to 10 times the publicly held national debt, four years of US economic output or more than 94 per cent of all US household assets. Alan Greenspan, Federal Reserve chairman, last week bemoaned what he called Washington's "deafening" silence about the future crunch."

This doesn't fit the garden-variety definition of a lie--it's a more sophisticated form of deception. But the effect is the same: the President has failed to tell the truth about his policies, which, one assumes, would be wildly unpopular. The worst part is that the results of these misdeeds won't be felt until years from now, when responsible leaders will have to clean up the mess. By then, Bush will be sipping Budweiser in Crawford.

(And now details about the tax cut are starting to emerge. In order to pay the corporate robber barons, Bush had to cut services to the poor--no tax benefit for children if you're too poor, that's just for the middle class [who vote]. Another jewel: if you are willing to buy an SUV, Bush is willing to let you write it off.)

posted by Jeff | 10:53 AM |

Thursday, May 29, 2003  

LITERARY WEEK continues today here on Notes on the Atrocities. Today I am taking a look at the internet and storytelling. This is the furthest out on the limb of ignorance I'm willing to travel. Hope you enjoy it.

Monday: Emma posts an okay short story.

Tuesday: The prose of the blog.

Yesterday: The prosification of poetry and poetry's relevance in America after 9/11.

Tomorrow: The ethics of blogging.

posted by Jeff | 1:47 PM |

The Internet and Storytelling

In the early 90s, hypertext fiction was all the rage. These were the kinds of stories in which there would be a panel of text with several words in hypertext. You clicked on them as was your fancy, and were hustled around non-linearly until you'd seen every panel. And generally, at the end, you went, "huh," never to return to hypertext. And surprise--it didn't take off.

There are reasons for this, obvious now that we're much more familiar with the online medium. We understand that linearity is desirable. Our brains work that way. In a narrative context, it is doubly important; without a forward thrust (be this based on plot or theme or character), you have interconnected fictive vignettes, not fiction.

(Blogs are hypertext productions, too. But they also depend on complete narratives--links take you to separate, complete narratives.)

Was the promise of a new kind of digital literature premature, then? Maybe not. Hypertext failed in part not because it was too new, but because it wasn't different enough. (In film schools, they'll tell you that when you cut back and forth between shots, they have to be really distinct. If the shots are too similar, you just confuse the audience.)

What I've seen in the digital mode is fiction so distinct from the standard definition that creators refer to it more often as art. There's a cool link at the Whitney Art Museum to an "Idea Line." It's an applet that shows art installations in a number of disciplines, arranged chronologically. You could spend a good many hours exploring this (and should). Among the disciplines is "Literature," though the distinctions aren't as obvious as the names would imply.

One I like in particular is by a friend I know in New York, Steve Cannon (there's apparently a porn star named Steve Cannon, but that's something else). Steve has created a couple of installations I'd like you to look at. The first is called Dispatched. Here's what Steve has to say about it:

An experience like reading three copies of the same book at once. Put your cursor over the text to stop it from scrolling. Click on the text to advance to the next one of the 47 sections.

It's a very long narrative--he's not kidding about the 47 sections. I encourage you to read it for at least five minutes, longer if you can manage it. It's literature as experience. It's possible to focus on one narrative and read it as you would any other (which has its own pleasures). But the intent of the installation, if I understand it, is to use the triptych to encourage the brain into a more free-flowing, dreamlike state. (The story itself helps with this.)

The second is even more abstract, and I'll let the artist speak for himself:

TEXT.URE synthesizes literary fiction, visual abstraction, and user interaction. It uses a transcendent interface to a non-linear narrative and by encouraging users to explore the visual space it mystifies and subverts the reading process. In the process of investigating the interface [see diagram 01], the user learns how to reveal their version of the story.

The work is inspired by the textural white on white paintings of Kasimir Malevich [see diagram 04]. In TEXT.URE, the relationship between the altitudes traversed by the path and the shape of the story is straightforward. But that simplicity is mitigated by the rugged and unpredictable terrain of the texture [see diagram 02]. Expect difficult browsing.

With the advent of technology we have the ability to develop an interactive system of rules by which a storyline may be produced. Each storyline is different from the next creating a unique experience for each user. We wanted to empower the user to build their own narrative using the words and phrases that the author assembled into a jagged grid with the authoring tool [see diagram 03]. The user doesn't know what each passage is until they trace over the texture. An association is quickly established between the physical motion of the user's drawn path and the words shown in the text display. The user is left to synchronize their actions and the words generated. If they trace over a peak they get a different string of text than they would if they explore a valley. In essence TEXT.URE is an exploration in nonlinear browsing. The user is NOT aware of what words come next but what we do provide them are the tools needed to infer in certain respects how the system opperates.

If narrative fiction is a two-dimensional process, then Texture and Dispatched seem to have three dimensions, as if the car we were driving shot out into space. In order to process the fiction, the brain has to let go of a familiar kind of cognition and embrace a new one. None of the material on Steve's website--nor the installations linked by the Whitney--are likely to be read by a wide audience. Literary fiction and poetry are waning in popularity, so it seems unlikely that the challenges of three-dimensional fiction are likely to be more appealing. But the experiments do suggest that the structure of narration may not be finite. According to the Whitney timeline, the earlies explorations were made less than a decade ago. In another decade, we'll have a better idea.

posted by Jeff | 1:44 PM |

Wednesday, May 28, 2003  

LITERARY WEEK continues today here on Notes on the Atrocities. Today I am taking a look at the nature and relevance of poetry. Has prosification destroyed the form? Has the Bush administration inadvertantly revived it? (And no, I wasn't thinking Don Rumsfeld's poetry, there....)

Monday: Emma posts an okay short story.

Yesterday: The prose of the blog.

Tomorrow: The internet and storytelling. Why hypertext was doomed to fail. What is the future of the internet and fiction? Have any new forms of fiction emerged as a result of digitation [digitalization?]?

Friday: To be announced.

[Note: The teaser about Rummy's poetry turned out to be an unintentional bait and switch. The truth: I think his poetry's not bad for an amateur. And it's certainly not enormously worse than "The Crow."]

posted by Jeff | 3:38 PM |

Prose and Poetry and Prose Poetry
Ah, poetry. Appreciated like an old Underwood typewriter--for what it must have meant to someone once, in a quaint and distant past. Much more rarely is it enjoyed directly, for what it is. Sure, a vast empire of literary magazines continues to keep the form in print, thereby keeping a sizeable number of poets writing, but who actually reads the stuff? I'll bet you don't read even the short pieces in the New Yorker.

Well, you're not alone, and it's not your fault. Poetry proliferates because it's short and easy to write. Good poetry does not proliferate, however, and it's far harder to write. Good poetry employs a variety of literary techniques--voice, meter, cadence, metaphor, pacing--to create complex emotions and levels of understanding in the reader. Good poetry is rare because the form is so condensed that a single wrong note can ruin the whole thing (novels, on the other hand, can survive hundreds of minor flaws).

If that's not enough, add to that the fact that most of the poetry written today is free verse (that is, no meter and no rhyme scheme), and the whole venture becomes even more amorphous. Let's have a look:


Was it because
at last
I cleaned the window

that he threw himself
against the glass?
I thought, poor crow--

he doesn't know
the evergreens
and blue sky

are behind him.
I turned back
to my page

but whumpp--
the bird attacked
the glass again.

(The poem goes on from there in the same vein.) So, good poem or bad? Before passing judgment, I will tell you that I took the selection from Poetry--the most well-regarded poetry magazine in the country. So?

I'm willing to go out on a limb and say: it's bad (with apologies to the author, who may well be a wonderful poet). If you read it aloud, the way it's written, it has a certain pleasant cadence. The two nice rhymes complement the herky-jerky rhythm in much the way a crow, first gliding, then sprawling and scrambling, might appear if he ran into a window. But her word selection is uninspired and pedestrian ("glass" twice, "evergreens" and "blue" and "whumpp"). And the most obvious thing is the clear prosification of the piece. Even reading it in it's segmented form, you can't help but hear it as a paragraph:

Was it because at last I cleaned the window that he threw himself against the glass? I thought, poor crow--he doesn't know the evergreens and blue sky are behind him. I turned back to my page but whumpp--the bird attacked the glass again.

This prosification of poetry has been an ongoing phenomenon since, I suspect, free verse. (Which is not to condemn the style. Rhyme's time is done, or almost. In the age of text messaging, it's hard to expect people to relate to "When by my solitary hearth I sit/ When no fair dreams before my mind's eye flit….") But it's gotten far worse over the past few years.

I had intended to link to an article that the poet David Alpaugh wrote in the March Poets and Writers magazine called "The Professionalization of Poetry, Part II" (but unfortunately, it's not posted). In it, he discusses this recent trend of poetry that is absolutely indistinguishable from pure prose, save that it's been (apparently) retroactively chopped up into lines and stanzas. I had especially wanted to show you some of the examples he found to illustrate the point. You'll just have to take my word for it.

So: first poetry became unpopular because people couldn't relate to its form, and then its form changed to something other than poetry. Things look dire indeed.

Who Cares?
The question arises: why not let poetry slide into irrelevance?--after all, I've got my Lara Croft.

The short answer, clarified the moment we saw the tangle of steel ribbon and cloud of dust where the World Trade Center used to be, is that we still need it. Poetry's irrelevance to the post-sincere pre-9/11 world was as nearly complete. But events have changed that. Confronted with 9/11 and the world we've inherited (with war, terrorism, and fear), poetry suddenly seems important.

This is poetry's place--to create meaning of chaos. Of course, what I've written here today is a wholly American analysis. The place of poetry was probably not so tenuous in other cultures. One would imagine not in Poland, for example, where Wislawa Szymborska wrote:

After every war
someone has to tidy up.
Things won't pick
themselves up, after all.

Someone has to shove
the rubble to the roadsides
so the carts loaded with corpses
can get by.

Someone has to trudge
through sludge and ashes,
through the sofa springs,
the shards of glass,
the bloody rags.

Someone has to lug the post
to prop the wall,
someone has to glaze the window,
set the door in its frame.

No sound bites, no photo opportunities,
and it takes years.
All the cameras have gone
to other wars.

The bridges need to be rebuilt,
the railroad stations, too.
Shirtsleeves will be rolled
to shreds.

Someone, broom in hand,
still remembers how it was.
Someone else listens, nodding
his unshattered head.
But others are bound to be bustling nearby
who'll find all that
a little boring.

From time to time someone still must
dig up a rusted argument
from underneath a bush
and haul it off to the dump.

Those who knew
what this was all about
must make way for those
who know little.
And less than that.
And at last nothing less than nothing.

Someone has to lie there
in the grass that covers up
the causes and effects
with a cornstalk in his teeth,
gawking at the clouds.

(Yes, it's prosified verse, too--I don't deny it. Goes to show: poetry's a delicate thing. And who among us who opposed the war could read this without being moved? Incidentally, I have a nice Sharon Olds, too, just to show Americans can write relevant poetry. Things are running on awfully long here, so if you wish to see it, email me.)

posted by Jeff | 3:34 PM |

Tuesday, May 27, 2003  

Obviously, blogger's sliding further and further into useless chaos. I'm unprepared to move the blog at present, and so if you have the energy to keep trying to read the posts, my hearty thanks. If not, curse blogspot for me. In any case, apologies.

posted by Jeff | 9:28 PM |

LITERARY WEEK continues today here on Notes on the Atrocities. Today I am taking a look at the prose of blogging. What characterizes blogging and what do we look for in a “good” blog?

Yesterday: Emma posts an okay short story.

Tomorrow: Prose poetry. Does it always suck, and how bad is Rummy's poetry?

Thursday: The internet and storytelling. Why hypertext was doomed to fail. What is the future of the internet and fiction? Have any new forms of fiction emerged as a result of digitation [digitalization?]?

Friday: To be announced.

posted by Jeff | 3:14 PM |

The Prose of the Web Log

Blogs are a written medium--informal, chatty, personal--but written prose nevertheless. As such, one might ask the question (and indeed I am): are they good prose? Or specifically: are blogs a distinct medium, and if so, how do we define “good” and “bad” blogs?

To the first part of the question--are blogs a distinct medium?--I think the answer is yes. Blogs are neither pure diary nor journalism--they occupy a space in between. Like diaries, they’re informal, personal, and conversational. But because information is now so immediate and accessible, blogs are more immediate and less reflective than diaries. And they form a public forum of opinion about events as they unfold, placing them in context (personal, ideological) that news avoids.

As to defining “good” and “bad” blogs--this is a more interesting question. So much of the information we receive has the appearance of neutrality (“objectivity” being an artifact of modernism) , but exists for the purpose of selling. Whether it’s direct commercial speech, or speech presented as the hook to sell ad space or commercials, the consumer is always aware of the actual motivation behind the words. (We’ve come a very long ways from the kind of scare the broadcast of “War of the Worlds” created. One imagines that if Dan Rather reported that Chinese bombs were aloft over Washington, we’d tune in CNN for confirmation.)

But blogs, due to their unvarnished personal nature, have the ring of authenticity. There’s no hidden agenda--rather the agenda is presented as part of the analysis. It takes no more than a sentence or two to recognize the political stance of a blogger. Thus the discussion takes place in that context, which also has a refreshing authenticity.

This doesn’t mean, of course, that the quality of writing is unimportant. Far from it. The main reason people read blogs (rather than just writing them, like with poetry) is because they offer something we don’t find elsewhere. I think blog readers have all had the experience of encountering an issue discussed with such freshness, candor, and clarity that we’ve thought “Wow, I’ve never read anything like this before.” Chatty, colloquial language seems to be a greater or lesser part of blog prose, but this doesn’t excuse sloppy or incoherent writing.

To me, blogs are akin to the old pamphlets during revolutionary times--individual, free-thinking, unvarnished, and pointed--with the added advantage of immediacy. When I read a blog, I like to be charmed both by the language and the content. If this involves playing with grammar, great--as long as it’s done to reveal rather than conceal.

In the following blog, I’ll take a look at some samples of the kind of blogging I enjoy and try to break down the prose characteristics.

posted by Jeff | 3:13 PM |

The Prose of Blogs – Examples

The Ur-blog
Atrios’ blog Eschaton is what you might call the ur-blog style, the most stripped-down, bare-bones style. One imagines he’s exasperated at the obviousness of news and its implications. For him, it’s enough to compose a single declarative sentence, using the highlighted link as both barb and target. (I expect that for half the people it’s enough to just read the sentence--going to the linked article is redundant.) It’s effective because Atrios posts regularly, reliably, and comprehensibly. According to his site, he gets 20,000 readers a day, and I bet like me, they go to Eschaton first, to see what’s happening.

Here’s an example from today’s posts.

Michael Getler Discovers Anonymous Sourcing

He's shocked to discover the Post's own standards for sourcing aren't being followed.

Maybe someone should send him a copy of Marvin Kalb's One Scandalous Story.

Atrios is to blogging what haiku is to poetry--economy and efficiency. In this example he uses the title to communicate information, then builds upon it with the first sentence, then builds upon that with the second. And so, in 32 words, he’s covered a fairly substantial subject.

The style accentuates immediacy. There’s an immediacy in the regularity with which Atrios posts, and this is reflected in his prose. It’s quick and pithy. The speed of news and communication is palpable on Eschaton, and he treats his readers with a prose style that underscores this ethos.

After the ur-blog/news-digest model of Eschaton, the essayist form is the most common (not, of course, that there are hard barriers). Among the more famous practitioners are Jeanne D’Arc (Body and Soul) and the Daily Howler. I’m going to highlight One Man’s Opinion, a blog deserving more attention.

One Man (or Dustin, as he signs himself in his comments) writes essays ranging in length from a couple hundred words to a recent treatise on the Matrix that ran 1,500 (it will come as no surprise that he’s a grad student). Let’s have a look at one paragraph from his Matrix essay:

If Zion is simply matrix writ in cruder code, then there truly is no escape from the matrix. Or at least that's what the disappointed commentors seem most worried about. Two interlocked dicta of Foucault's thought address the issue of resistance. The first is that power is not only destructive--the power of the sentinels, of the Agents, of society as a whole to grind down, wear out, and ultimately destroy non-compliance--but is also constructive--the power to build coalitions, to create, to imagine and to reimagine. This is the One's power, to reach into the code of the world and to rewrite its rules. The second, trickier dictum is that even the subversive can be subverted. This is the principle of the matrix--that the subversive elements can be isolated and contained in the subverts paradise, Zion--but it is also the principle of Morpheus--to challenge, even to destroy, the nascent hierarchies of Zion if doing so can produce the conditions for real freedom. (And suddenly it dawns on me: Foucault defined "power"--mysteriously, mystically--as "polymorphous perversity"; I just defined it as poly-Morpheus subversity...)

This is, admittedly, one of the more dense passages I might have selected. But despite that, there’s a playfulness that characterizes it. Dustin takes what he’s saying seriously, but not too seriously. The blog gives one the opportunity to say what he wishes to say, but to hold it lightly--as if to emphasize the human behind the thesis. In fact, the blogosphere provides a safe haven where one can actually make a very serious argument, but make it in a way that abandons the neutrality of commercial speech. We read this dense paragraph and don’t perceive an arrogance because, after all, it’s just One Man’s Opinion. It’s offered purely for consideration. The style of this prose is academic, but it’s not pedantic. It’s complex, but it’s not obtuse.

Another practitioner of the essay is Big Air Fred, whose Rantavation site is also under-appreciated. Coincidentally, he’s posted a treatise today that shows the relevance of blogs.

Currently we are in a serious crisis of our leadership. We have a democracy that continues to bypass its constituency, the people, for the corporations and special-interest groups that shoulder the enormous costs of elections. The need for election funding reform is pressing, as is Instant Run-off Voting and any other number of changes to the system. The efforts to correct all of these problems at one time are overwhelming, but carving out a chunk at a time is within our grasp. In this outline, I try to respond to the feeling of "unattachment" between the constituency and their representatives.

"Anyone" can get in contact with their elected officials and let those officials know how they feel about the issues "near and dear" to them. Certain "anyones" just get much quicker and more responsive contact than others do. Most "anyones" just don't have the time in the day, or the money in the budget, to contact their officials via fax, phone, US Postal Service or most privileged at all, in person. It's not necessarily that any real physical barriers exist, but many non-physical ones--money, time, knowledge, social barriers, do. What happens, then, is that the dialog between the representatives of the demos (the voting public) and the demos itself gets monopolized by those that have the easiest path to access. Those "dialog monopolizers" include, but are not limited to, lobbyists and current/potential big campaign contributors. Hardly the stuff of democracy.

The language here is in the rare third-person, out of which Fred rarely slips. But despite that, it seems like personal communication. There’s nothing neutral about it. It feels like a rough draft (rare is the blog subjected to an even informal editor), more like the transcription of a speech than a polished piece of prose. (If he ran it through another edit, Fred my choose to use some different words, craft more clearly declarative sentences, and switch to the more orthodox “dialogue.”) If Fred submitted this to a magazine, the editor would want to make some changes. (I’m incredibly sloppy myself. If someone wishes to subject this essay to a rigorous analysis, I’ll hide my head in shame.)

But in terms of clarity and effect, there’s something about the style that communicates passion and authenticity. We get the point. We also feel the import and urgency of his words. It’s a very effect passage.

If the ur-blog promotes awareness, and the essayist promotes understanding, then there is a third kind of blogger who wishes to promote action. Or at least to suggest it. Take for example, a section from This Modern World:

Through its GOP Team Leader site, the Republican Party officially encourages people to cut-and-paste Republican talking points, sign their own names, and email them to news media as letters to the editor purportedly written by average, concerned citizens. There's a word for this. Actually there are several: deception, fraud, deceit, sham, hoax--take your choice. And it gets better: for partaking in this act of officially-sanctioned deception, GOP Team Leaders are awarded points which can be redeemed for swag such as tote bags and caps and so on. . . .

And in their May 26 issue, Time magazine fell for it. I noted it here, suggested you (politely, always politely) write them and let them know they'd been, well, snookered, and over 180 of you did, at last count. . . .

So I want to keep the pressure on. Politely. This site gets an average of about 15,000 unique visitors a day, which means there are some 14,820 of you who will read this today, give or take, who haven't sent a note to Time yet. So let's get on that. I want to turn over the rock and expose the deceptive practices of the GOP Team Leader site to the light of day. (To avoid the inevitable cheap editorializing on Time's part, let's make sure we're not fighting astroturf with astroturf. Write them in your own words, explaining the situation and why it concerns you. Don't just cut-and-paste my entries.)

This is a rare exhortation. Generally, author Tom Tomorrow merely nudges you through your own outrage to the point of action. Jeralyn Merritt of TalkLeft (I’ll admit I’m annoyed that this isn’t two words, but that’s hardly an issue of prose) gives us an example of this method:

The Washington Post reports that Bush judicial nominee Charles Pickering was so upset that he had to sentence a convicted cross-burner to 7 years that he tried to get the Justice Department to intervene. Reportedly, he threatened to overturn the jury's verdict even though he agreed it was legal. He demanded Janet Reno personally review the case. Of the cross-burner, he said, ""They're wanting seven years for a young man that got drunk."

Sure, we are glad the Judge opposes mandatory minimum sentences. But given his overall record, that's a drop in the bucket and hardly enough. This is a lifetime position we are talking about--a seat on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals which includes the states of Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. Like Miguel Estrada and Priscilla Owen, Charles Pickering has no place on the federal appeals court bench.

Here again, Tom and Jeralyn might make some changes if their blogs were going into the New Yorker. But that’s not really the point. Their directness and candor speak volumes. The posts are more like personal emails mailed out to friends than official publications. We understand that it’s more important for the posts to get posted than it is for them to be posted error-free.

And speaking of getting things posted . . .

posted by Jeff | 3:12 PM |

Monday, May 26, 2003  

Welcome to LITERARY WEEK here on Notes on the Atrocities. Just to get the ball rolling on a slow Memorial Day, here's a story in the metafiction genre, a dog-earred knock-off of Barthleme. I hope it demonstrates that I'm really in no position to be judgmental. Please have at it.

Tomorrow: The prose of the blog. I'll take a gander at how the blog form is changing the way we write.

Wednesday: Prose poetry. Does it always suck, and how bad is Rummy's poetry?

Thursday: The internet and storytelling. Why hypertext was doomed to fail. What is the future of the internet and fiction? Have any new forms of fiction emerged as a result of digitation [digitalization?]?

Friday: To be announced.

posted by Jeff | 2:21 PM |

Democracy, by Martha Shulman

I was in the irregular office of Mr. Michael Tuthill, owner of BridgePort Publishing, when he received the package. An iridescent blue, plastic-coated manila envelope. He allowed it to gleam on his desk for a moment before emptying its contents. Inside, the transcript of Democracy, by the well-known Wisconsin philosopher, Martha Shulman. Tuthill was ecstatic.

"Here it is," he told me, doing a truncated little jig. Outside, the trucks rumbled down Burnside.

Neither Tuthill nor I realized that similar packages were being received in similar offices of similarly-insignificant publishers in Tallinn and Dhaka. Where editors danced, much like Tuthill.

Although the packages were similar, they were not identical. In addition to the manuscripts, they contained exacting instructions about the book: dimensions, typeface, paper type, quality, and weight, cover design. These were indistinguishable. Then there were the manuscripts, superficially alike.

Each was 72,372 words and 21 chapters long. Chapter and section headings were the same, and except for minor exceptions, the indices, bibliographies, and acknowledgements were identical. It was the author's thesis wherein most of the obvious differences were later discovered.

In the American edition, Shulman extolled the triumph of democracy. Not a political triumph--that was self-evident--but an evolutionary triumph. She argued that, owing to the elegance of democratic government and its benefits, society was well on the way to being cleansed of the ills that heretofore pestered civilization: war, strife, poverty, Marxism, religion.

In the European edition, she argued the opposite: democracy was the greatest failure humans had yet perpetrated upon themselves. She compared it to alcoholism: like a drunk who is fooled into thinking that his vice is his salvation, democracy's failures were not only fatal, but the very citizens who were bound for doom were busy celebrating, intoxicated by their "success." Quite to the contrary, though, the world, she argued, was on the brink of environmental collapse and apocalyptic war.

To my thinking, the Bangladeshi edition was the most interesting. Here, Shulman argued that democracy did not exist nor had it ever. As with so many human beliefs--geocentrism, racial equality, dinosaurs--democracy was merely conceptual. She demonstrated this by example: Mexico, Pakistan, and most perniciously, the United States.

Early reviews were favorable. In the United States, Democracy was called "unexpected" (Shulman was, after all, one of the few remaining theoretical monarchists) and "surprisingly cogent" by the New York Times.

Europeans were incensed, and therefore pleased. Le Monde called it "the first bold political philosophy since Sartre--enough to erase the debacle of the tedious post-modernists forever." Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung used an economy of words in declaring it "post-neoconservative."

And in South Asia, Hindus winked knowingly. "Of course Dr. Shulman is correct," wrote a Times of India reviewer, "but I am certainly surprised to find an American making the point.

These reviews had been written, however, before recognition of Shulman's maneuver had surfaced.


I met Dr. Shulman at Ernie's in Sheboygan, eleven days after Democracy was published. She was enjoying a snack of fried cheese curds. A rangy woman of over six feet tall, she wore incongruously small, steel-rimmed glasses, and her snowy hair was cropped in a modest pageboy. Clothes billowed off her long limbs like sailcloth.

For the fifteen minutes we spoke, I noticed that her eyebrows never moved, which was disquieting. And her smoking, a kind of conversational border collie, creating a physical space in which to contain words.

She began by offering a curd and asking if I had read much of her philosophy.

"No, thank you," I said, indicating the curds. And then, "Mainly reviews," I confessed to her second question.

"It doesn't matter," she told me.

Unfortunately, after that brief opening, I had difficulty directing her back to Democracy. She preferred to talk about golf (her son plays for the University of Wisconsin).

"But this is the fascinating thing about it," she told me. "Golf only has distantly to do with athletics. Nearly every player of a certain skill has the ability to hit the ball straight every time. And yet few do it uniformly."

Suspecting she was speaking metaphorically about her democracy-as-fiction argument, I responded, "I see--golf then, like democracy, is theoretical?"

"What are you talking about? It's an international sport."

She spent ten minutes describing the development of her son's game. After a few attempts to commandeer the conversation and return it to her publications, I realized it was futile. Each time I tried, she sent a jet of smoke out to keep me quiet. I listened.

"And of course, he chose to play in Wisconsin to be near his friends, who by and large are hockey players. This is a further obstacle."

"I'd imagine it is."

"He's tried to play in the winter using red balls, but it's useless."

"I'm sorry."

She popped the final curd into her mouth and lighted a fresh cigarette off the end of a nearly-consumed one. Then stood. "It was very nice speaking to you," she said. "Thank you so much."

"But can you tell me anything at all about your books?" I pleaded. "Anything I might use in an article?"

She reached out and patted my shoulder.

"Books?" she asked as she left.

posted by Jeff | 2:20 PM |

Friday, May 23, 2003  

Jessica Lynch Revisited

I should have known that Tom was already on this meme (in the comments to the blog below, Tom Maguire details the history of this story, with pro and con). And even when I wrote the blog, I had a slightly sinking feeling that I was an Emma-come-lately on an issue about which I knew little. Me ol' Spidey senses turned out to be on target.

But, having gotten myself up to speed, I see no reason not to stand behind the BBC article and my blog. For two reasons:

1) The BBC's article isn't about whether blanks or bullets were fired. It's got two main points: that Lynch wasn't a shot-up hero, but a hapless victim of war chaos, and that the US knew this, but lied and sold her as a war hero. (All of which I'll grant pales compared to administration lies to the US and UN about the connections between Al Qaida and Iraq and Saddam's possesion of WMD.)

2) My point is that without media diversity, this story goes unexplored. And I'm not even arguing we need to establish a state media agency here. Just that, in this case, the BBC and Guardian weren't interested in selling newspapers or ad time to Americans so moon-eyed by the power of the empire that they wouldn't tolerate criticism, and so they followed the story. It's already the case that that kind of diversity doesn't exist in American media. Selling off the rest of the farm to Rupert Murdoch isn't likely to improve things.

This isn't particularly a rebuttal to Tom, whom I'd bet is leery about this pending FCC ruling. He tends to be a hawk about accuracy in reporting. More that he seemed to be proferring a soapbox, and I took it. (Big surprise there.)

posted by Jeff | 9:05 PM |

Jessica Lynch story was US Proganda

According to the BBC, Jessica Lynch was no hero. Instead, she was part of the Bruckheimer-esque production of the Re-elect George W. Bush campaign:

Reports claimed that she had stab and bullet wounds and that she had been slapped about on her hospital bed and interrogated.

"There was no [sign of] shooting, no bullet inside her body, no stab wound - only road traffic accident. They want to distort the picture. I don't know why they think there is some benefit in saying she has a bullet injury."

What was the US up to, you ask? The BBC has a theory:

The American strategy was to ensure the right television footage by using embedded reporters and images from their own cameras, editing the film themselves.

The Pentagon had been influenced by Hollywood producers of reality TV and action movies, notably the man behind Black Hawk Down, Jerry Bruckheimer.

Bruckheimer advised the Pentagon on the primetime television series "Profiles from the Front Line", that followed US forces in Afghanistan in 2001. That approached was taken on and developed on the field of battle in Iraq.

Although this story was reported more than a week ago, I hadn't heard about it until I read Cohen's editorial about it today in the Post. Now, I'm willing to allow the possibility that this was big blog news over the past week and that I missed it. But in general, I read a lot of news, and let me tell you--this wasn't burning up the front pages.

Right now, the FCC is deliberating a plan that will grant sweeping rights to media megacorps to futher consolidate media outlets. (In fact, it's really a done deal--they just haven't rubber-stamped it with the 3-2 vote that everyone knows is coming.) On the pages and broadcasts of those megacorp-owned newspapers and stations, analysts have argued that there's really no threat here--the market will take care of things (which the reporters for the megacorp-owned media outlets then duly report). Can there be a better example than this case that this view is seriously innacurate? When the news media are owned by a few, and those few are spoon feeding government-generated lies, it's a little hard to swallow the notion that "the market will sort things out."

No matter how prettily that message is packaged by a Bruckheimer-esque production.

posted by Jeff | 12:35 PM |

There's quite a big story brewing in that whole Texas-Democrats-abscond-to-Ardmore-and-are-tracked-down-by-the-department-of-homeland-security fiasco. If you haven't been following the story, go to Talking Points Memo, where Josh Marshall has been giving a blow-by-blow account. It's incredible stuff--the first government corruption scandal that actually deserves comparison to Watergate (though no one's thought of a handy word that describes the complex tangle onto which "-gate" can be easily suffixed). There are striking comparisons: government-initiated thuggery, coverups, and a mystery story about how far up the chain of command the whole thing went (House Majority Leader Tom Delay). All it lacks is a Deep Throat.

Great stuff--go read it. (And anyway, Krugman's absent again, so you have a little extra reading time.)

posted by Jeff | 9:53 AM |

Annika, Day 2

The thinking today is that she's going to have to get to even to make the cut. Which means a one-under day, well within reach. She tees off at 11:43 Pacific time, updates below.

It's interesting to me to see the press she's gotten. The New York Times: "Anything but Par for the Course." Newsday: "Right Down the Middle." Boston Globe: "History lesson: "She can hang with the boys." I guess people really expected her to be a washout. And yet, when all the endless articles compared her to other golfers, her numbers were quite competitive. She looked to have skill comparable to an average golfer, with a few stellar spots (her fairway accuracy would be the best on the men's tour). Still, everyone was surprised at her performance.

I thought it was okay, but I was really hoping for her to get a cushion so she could make the cut. Week in and week out the journeymen golfers struggle to make the cut. Getting close but not quite there will prove she deserved to play, but I was hoping she could prove something more: that she was competitive. Here's hoping she can scorch the course today. Go Annika!

[Update 9:14 PDT: Annika finished fairly far back, at 145 (+5), and missed the cut. It's a damn shame, and I hope she gives it another shot. After all, Sergio Garcia, Tom Lehman, and Bob Estes also missed the cut. Good effort, Annika!]

posted by Jeff | 9:34 AM |

Weather Report

Cresting the low summit of the Steel Bridge, muddy Willamette pouring north to the Columbia, but Mediterranean under rare lazuline sky. Grim Oregonians having forgotten the blue, feeling strangely hopeful, smiling on the bus. Ah, hope -- as long as the sun shines.

posted by Jeff | 9:15 AM |

Thursday, May 22, 2003  

The View from Oregon
All politics are local, right? Well, locally (Oregon) we just had a number of county elections to try to restore some of the lost funding for schools. Multnomah County (Portland) led the charge, placing an initiative on the ballot to enact a 1.25% income tax for three years. A Portland suburb, Beaverton, did a similar thing, as did nine other municipalities across the state. The Beaverton and Portland versions passed, but outside the more liberal metro area, local taxes faired worse (three for nine). What can we draw from this?

Well, Oregon's an interesting case. As is usual on the West Coast, the cities are very liberal and the rural districts are more conservative (Southern Oregon, settled mainly by Southern Civil War vets looking for gold, is isolationist, libertarian, and very conservative; Eastern Oregon, settled by Midwestern farmers, is moderate). Also consistent with West Coast politics, there's an initiative system, and citizens are more politically active and aware than in other states. Oregon's always had quirky politics, being the first to enact the bottle bill (in the early 70s), instituting urban planning, adopting a statewide health care system, and being the only place on earth to legalize physician-assisted suicide. But the state was also the leader on citizen-led anti-tax measures (quite successful early on) and anti-gay measures (all of which failed).

Beginning in the early 90s, Oregon went on a fanatical anti-tax crusade.* Portland's once famous school system is now a national laughing stock. And, although it wasn't nearly as well-publicized, Oregon literally had to throw the poor, elderly, and developmentally delayed out onto the streets when last year's budget ran short (never mind grandma--gotta have a balanced budget!).

In the last election cycle, Oregon elected a new, fairly conservative Democratic governor who immediately declared that he would never raise taxes. Oregon continued to hemorrhage funds, compelling locals to try to raise their own taxes. (Legislators have become so timid that the only bills they were considering this year were please-the-base bills like bicycle helmet laws and anti-abortion laws. Meanwhile, citizens fumed.) The interesting upshot is that, against conventional wisdom, citizens didn't behave in the most self-interested way they might have. And now taxes are once more being considered by the very fearful legislators (including the governor, though he has yet to muster the courage to announce it himself, publicly.)

Also of note were simultaneous elections for four seats on the school board, which, given the state of schools, were hotly contested. A group backed by conservative business people (including Nike's Phil Knight), had a gang of four they tried to push through. They dumped tens of thousands into the election, and their candidates got quite a bit of press. The result? None of them won.

Portland is definitely not reflective of politics nationally; nevertheless, in one small town, the electorate is awakening...

*Arcane funding footnote. Oregon doesn't have a sales tax; all its funding comes from income and property taxes. Two years ago, the economy here tanked, sending the unemployment rate skyrocketing (it's been between 7 - 8% since). Because so much of the funding depends on income taxes, Oregon's revenues bottomed out; in the last biennium (the legislature meets every other year), adjusted revenues were $2.5 billion less than the predicted $11 billion. Rather than raise revenue, the state cut programs to the bone.

posted by Jeff | 2:52 PM |

More people watched "American Idol" last night than watched the Academy Awards (33.7 million to 33.1). I'm amazed by this, but have no idea what it means.

posted by Jeff | 10:31 AM |


Forget the cut, I'm hoping she wins. The analysis here need not be lengthy: all the furor surrounding her participation arises from the discomfort men feel about challenging their cherished notion that women are less physically able to compete. Confronting that belief--whatever the outcome--is uncomfortable, and so there's an uproar. I couldn't be more delighted.

[Update 2:14 PDT: Annika bogied eighteen and finished one over. Currently that puts her tied for 68, and six off the lead. The rest of the field is on the course, and most have finished.]

posted by Jeff | 9:41 AM |

Rent a Negro

Why not buy?
As we all know, the purchase of African Americans was outlawed many years ago. As times have changed the need for black people in your life has changed but not diminished. The presence of black people in your life can advance business and social reputation. These days those who claim black friends and colleagues are on the cutting edge of social and political trends. As our country strives to incorporate the faces of African.

How do I rent a negro?
It's simple. Just fill out and submit the Rental Request. Within 2-3 weeks you will receive a rental agreement and price quote. Then just submit your deposit and plan your event. Simple tip: Submit your rental request with rent-a-negro before you finalize your event date. Make sure she's available!

(And before I get a lot of hate mail: it's satire. Read more about it here.)

posted by Jeff | 8:54 AM |

Wednesday, May 21, 2003  

The question of the President's faith came up again this weekend. Bill Keller wrote an article called "God and George W. Bush" in the Times, concluding, amiably, that the President is not unduly influenced by his religious faith. ("I’ve long suspected the essential fact about Mr. Bush is that God was his 12-step program.") I was prepared to ignore the article, except that I happened across the wonderful blog "Political Aims," in which it was discussed.

The author, Amy Sullivan, also takes a neutral view on the issue. She argues that the President’s faith is, if not benign, then at least doesn’t drive his policy.

Bush's total confidence that his interpretation of religion, politics, baseball, what-have-you is correct reveals an oddly selective reading of biblical history. Instead, Bush combines a much more pedestrian sort of arrogance with the language of religious calling. But when he talks about being on a "path" or feeling "called," he's not granting himself special historical status -- he is simply describing his life in religious terms.

Furthermore, Sullivan argues, criticizing the President for his religious beliefs directs attention away from his much more obvious and dangerous beliefs.

Why should we even care about how we criticize Bush? Because taking him on over the wrong points neutralizes our ability to lodge legitimate complaints. John Ashcroft’s critics made the same mistake during his confirmation hearings when they spent time guffawing over the story that his father anointed him with vegetable oil before he was sworn into the Senate. There are many reasons to be concerned about Ashcroft – his opposition to a desegregation plan in Missouri and his involvement in legislation to criminalize abortion come to mind – but his private religious observance is not one of them. The more we rely on intellectually lazy arguments that ridicule religion, the more vulnerable we are to charges of being “anti-religion,” even when we raise valid concerns.

In fact, if the criticism aimed at the President is merely a secular-humanist pot shot, then I agree with Sullivan. Among liberals, there's certainly a tendency toward smugness about religious faith. Keller even betrays himself on this score (or so it seems to me): "This kind of born-again epiphany is common in much of America -- the red-state version of psychotherapy -- and it creates the kind of faith that is not beset by doubt because the believer knows his life got better in the bargain."

But there's a reason to have legitimate concern about the President's (and John Ashcroft's) beliefs: they may supercede an allegiance to the rule of law. We have elected George W. Bush to uphold the laws of the nation and the constitution. If his allegiance is first to his belief in God, and this belief causes him to make decisions on the nation's behalf, then his religious belief does become a legitimate issue. I've spent some time identifying some actions by the President which make me think this may be the case. Maybe it's not. Either way, it isn't anti-religious nor anti-Christian to raise the question.

It is, however, great to find another blogger out there who’s pushing these questions around.

posted by Jeff | 5:08 PM |

This just in

Next week will be LITERARY WEEK at Notes on the Atrocities. That means, for one week only -- no Dick! and no George! (but maybe a little Donald).

Is poetry dead?

How have blogs changed prose?

And more--

Bookmark Notes today!

posted by Jeff | 2:16 PM |

Around the blogosphere...

Ruminate This is again on the FCC story. There are some great resources up and a link to the MoveOn campaign.

Kevin Drum at CalPundit asks some interesting questions about taxation. In the Rittenhouse Review, you'll find a nice obit for the Partisan Review. And in Mac Diva's pantry (that be Mac-a-ro-nies), a discussion of EJ Dionne's plans for the Democrats (they're good, but they're no Three-Point Plan).

Kos has the new rankings out, and Max speaks about George and his tax cuts. (Surprise! The snake bit the turtle. How's that make you feel, Bob and Zell? Shoulda been reading your Notes.)

posted by Jeff | 2:02 PM |

Time to bang my Harper's drum again. The newest editions are in mailboxes now (but not, I think, on newsstands), and so this is a sneak peek into Lewis Lapham's latest cracking good essay:

"The first week of the invasion proved every assertion false. In place of Hitler or Stalin, the American armies found the remnants of a dictator more accurately compared to a psychotic prison warden, a brutal but almost comic figure, so enslaved to the dream of his omnipotence that he apparently had trusted the defense of his kingdom to histrionic press releases and gigantic portraits of himself armed with a shotgun and a porkpie hat.

"No Iraqi shock troops appeared in the field against the American infantry divisions; no Iraqi aircraft presumed to leave the ground; no allied combat unit met with, much less knew where to find, the fabled weapons of mass destruction. The desultory shows of resistance at the river crossings constituted ragged skirmish lines of young men for the most part barefoot and lightly armed, so many of them out of uniform that it wasn’t worth the trouble to distinguish between the civilian and the military dead.

"The weakness of the Iraqi target made ridiculous Washington’s propaganda poster of Saddam as the second coming of Adolf Hitler, and the useful lesson to be learned presented itself on April Fool’s Day. Here was the American army in the sinister landscape of Iraq, equipped to fight the Battle of Normandy or El-Alamein but conducting a police action in the manner of Israeli assassination teams hunting down Palestinian terrorists in the rubble of the Gaza Strip. Would it be possible to hide in plain sight the false pretext of Operation Iraqi Freedom? The Bush Administration answered the question with its customary mendacious aplomb, simply by changing the mission statement. The American army had not come to Iraq to remove the totalitarian menace threatening all of Western civilization--absolutely not; the American army had come briefly eastward out of Eden to “liberate” the long-suffering Iraqi people from the misery inflicted upon them by and evil-doer with the habit of cutting out tongues. One excuse for war as good as any other."

That's merely the section on "The moral splendor of American empire can be made to stand on a pedestal of lies." Additional gems can be found in "The American news media can be relied upon to sell the spectacle and leave the story to the government" and "Package the imperialist agenda as instructive entertainment, and the American public will come to know and love the product."

It's not online, but well worth the buck you'll spend each month if you get a subscription.

posted by Jeff | 1:03 PM |

Tuesday, May 20, 2003  

Michael Savage confesses "It was all a joke"

Controversial shock jock Michael Savage admitted on Tuesday that his on-air shtick was all a ruse. "I figured everyone was in on the joke. I mean, my god--I've got a doctorate in nutritional science from Berkeley!"

Savage held a press conference today outside the studio at KSFO in San Francisco where he broadcasts his nationally-syndicated show. "I would like everyone to know, all my faithful listeners and fans, that the Savage Nation is a hoax. I'm not a conservative or a bigot. In fact, I'm a registered Socialist and a card-carrying member of the ACLU. I felt I could no longer in good conscience continue to deceive you all. I know it may be hard for some of you to hear, but I was just making sport of you."

According to those close to Savage, the routine began during the Reagan administration. Savage used the persona to ridicule "Reagan Democrats" and other "soft-headed conservatives" at cocktail parties. "He killed at those parties," said Mort Chalmers, a long-time friend. "I mean killed."

"He really was the most enjoyable of that whole revolutionary Maoist crowd we used to run around with," noted Jade, another friend. "I mean, they could get too heavy, you know what I mean? But Mike, man, he was a kick in the pants."

"Well, the whole thing just got out of hand," said Savage, in an interview with the AP after the press conference. "I mean, after the Reagan thing you had Limbaugh, and pretty soon every two-bit bigot had a talk radio show. It was so easy to ape them."

Savage got his start on Berkeley's KPFA public radio station, hosting a reggae show on Thursday evenings. In order to spice up the broadcast, he used a variety of voices, from Mistah Big E White to his now-famous "Savage Nation" personality. He gradually changed the format of the show to pure satire. Eventually, he was offered a contract by KSFO, and the books and magazine articles followed. Savage is now heard by millions of unsuspecting listeners each day.

"KSFO always encouraged me to play it up," Savage said. "And boy, did I ever. It didn't occur to me that people were taking it seriously." When asked what he thought of his callers, who are famous for their callow, inappropriate questions, Savage said, "I thought they were in on it, too! Come on, no one's that stupid."

But they were. Savage failed to take into account America's inability to comprehend satire or laugh at themselves. Asked what he thought he'd do now, Savage was philosophical. "I don't see any reason to stop. I expect the dullards who listen to the show will still listen, because even if I am making fun of them, well, they still agree with me."

posted by Jeff | 7:16 PM |

Yesterday Cursor gave me a shout-out for the O'Reilly post, sending some twelve hundred folks my way. A big thanks to them, and a welcome to all who are coming to Notes for the first time. I hope you find more of interest than just the O'Reilly piece and that this isn't your last visit. Putter around and see what you think, and send a note if the spirit moves you. I always love to hear what people think of the site.


posted by Jeff | 9:51 AM |

The Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003

That's the name of the Bush-proposed gut-the-forests initiative the House is currently debating. It's bad policy and another example of cynical giveaways that so characterize the Bush White House. But worse than that, it's a law that would, in part, prevent legal actions. It's another example of the administration's effort to remove the checks-and-balances feature of the judiciary. Thus it's not only a gut-the-forests law, but a gut-the-barriers-to-my monarchy law, as well. I wonder what Rove calls that--the quinella?

[Update: Today this legislation sailed through the House.]

posted by Jeff | 9:26 AM |

No Krugman! It goes to show how much like a drug he's become to me. Pull my usual Tuesday ration and I go into withdrawals...

Incidentally, did you realize that Nicholas Kristof responds to emails?

posted by Jeff | 9:18 AM |

Monday, May 19, 2003  

Executing the Three-Point Strategy: An Environmental Example

"Moving America toward a 21st century energy policy based on renewable energy and conservation will enhance national security and promote a healthier environment.

"We can no longer remain mired in policies of the past that reward special interest oil, gas and coal industries. Continued reliance on traditional energy sources will make America more dependent on Middle East oil ten years from now than we are today. A new environmentally sustainable approach to American energy policy will lead us to energy independence."
--Dick Gephardt

[Critique: This isn't an environmental platform, it’s a response to Bush policies. The environment is the one issue on which the President is seriously in trouble, so this should be an easy winner for the Democrats. Yet the Gephardt-type of response keeps the issue on the President's message. Democrats absolutely must have a bold plan here, and they have the chance to highlight the positive. Bush's policies put a pit inside everyone’s stomach, and the wrong approach (like Gephardt’s) keeps it there. Instead of scaring the electorate with doomsday prophecies--and marginalizing the issue--the Democrats can use this as a major point of positive, forward-looking leverage.]

"Next to the abortion debate, no issue polarizes as quickly as 'environmentalism,' which wide swaths of America take to be code for 'extreme anti-progress agenda.' And for the environmentalists--those who see the rising temperatures, changing climate, and dying species--this criticism seems like propaganda from fat cats who want nothing more than to level pristine forests for Hiltons and Hummers.

"But the truth is far different. Most Americans want the same thing: clean air and water, protected wild lands, and reasonable land use laws. But because of the way in which the debate is framed, it seems like an either/or proposition. This is where there's opportunity.

"By crafting a sound policy of conservation and renewal, I hope to both improve our environment and mend some of these damaged relationships. I will form a coalition of interest from those constituencies who depend on healthy wild lands, and ask them to come together to advise my administration about implementation of new policies. Those groups include naturalists, sportsmen, loggers, fisherman, hunters, campers, and farmers--all of whom have keen interest in a robust, healthy environment. They will join ecologists, scientists, and environmentalists to ensure that the solutions actually benefit our natural environment."

And from here I would suggest an integrated policy that focused on identifying serious concerns and addressing them creatively through 1) a series of incentives, compensation, and tax breaks for businesses, and 2) through clear, science-based regulation. Particularly in the context of incentives, there’s a huge opportunity. Providing incentives so that American automakers lead the production of cars utilizing clean-burning fuels would benefit not only the environment, but the economy as well. It would be a wonderful opportunity for a Kennedy-like challenge: that all cars manufactured in 2014 be non-oil-burning cars. A very bold agenda based on possibility and cooperation, where everyone can benefit from ecological improvement, turns a troubling, back-burner issue into a major winner for the Democrats.

posted by Jeff | 1:32 PM |

Financial Follies

If a policy ain't gettin the job done, well, try the opposite.

"The dollar sank to a four-year low Monday after the Bush administration, in an apparent policy reversal, indicated over the weekend that it might accept a weaker dollar relative to other currencies.

"In a sequel to his remarks from the previous week about the positive aspects of the dollar's devaluation, U.S. Treasury Secretary John Snow brought the case a step further by saying that the definition of the 'strong-dollar policy' has shifted. The dollar is currently down more than 20% against the euro in the past year."

Recall that in 2001, the President argued that tax cuts were warranted because of the strength of the American ecomomy. But then the economy tanked. So then in 2002 and this year, tax cuts are needed for stimulus. It's actually a pretty good strategy: adjust your rhetoric to fit the news of the day. That way, you're always in step with whatever arises.

Of course, the Dow is currently tanking (with an hour and a half to go, it's down almost 200 points). No worries, though! Tomorrow, the President will simply explain how a tanking stock market is one of the main reasons we need to cut taxes. See how easy it is?

[Update: Good news! The dollar also got hammered today in currencies across Asia, despite those countries' weak SARS-slowed ecomonies. Soon our products will be the cheapest in the world.]

posted by Jeff | 11:27 AM |

Say it ain't so, Ari

Lefties have varying degrees of enmity for the members of Bush's team. Any debate about the least-liked would be heated indeed. But the most irritating? No contest: Ari Fleischer. So is it with glee that I greet this morning's news that we "won't have Ari Fleischer to kick around any more?" (All right, he didn't actually say that.) No, quite the opposite.

I can't imagine anyone personifying the Bush administration with greater clarity. Who can match his perfect blend of arrogance, contempt, mendacity, and secrecy? It seemed that Ari had a preternatural connection to the President--it took little effort to hear Ari and imagine the words coming out of Bush's mouth.

And from a blogger's perspective, this is a horrible turn of events. Half our material comes from Ari! Come on, Ari, you can't leave us now--an election's about to start.

For posterity, a few choice Ari Fleischer quotes:

"One, I think your choice of words is inappropriate when you refer to President Bush's militarism. The President is seeking a way to provide peace and to protect the American people from a growing, gathering threat at the hands of Saddam Hussein and the weapons he has collected." (2/11/03)

"[D]uring the campaign the president did not express, as you put it, disdain for nation-building. What the president has said is, the military should be used for the purpose of fighting and winning wars, exactly as we did in Afghanistan." (2/27/03)

"Again, the President has not made any decisions about military action or what military option he might pursue. And so I think it's impossible to speculate. I can only say that the cost of a one-way ticket is substantially less than that. The cost of one bullet, if the Iraqi people take it on themselves, is substantially less than that. The cost of war is more than that. But there are many options that the President hopes the world and people of Iraq will exercise themselves of that gets rid of the threat. But it's impossible to say what the President options are militarily from a price tag, because he's made no decisions." (10/1/02)

"I have not seen the actual transcript of the show itself. But assuming the press reports are right, it's a terrible thing to say, and it unfortunate. And that's why -- there was an earlier question about has the President said anything to people in his own party -- they're reminders to all Americans that they need to watch what they say, watch what they do. This is not a time for remarks like that; there never is." (Responding to Bill Maher's comments on Politically Incorrect, 9/26/02.)

posted by Jeff | 10:49 AM |

Sunday, May 18, 2003  

I'm also in a little shock over the suicide bombings that are spreading like wildfire. First the attacks in Riyadh, then Morocco, and meanwhile, Isreal's on the brink of civil war. I can only come to the conclusion that, as the Israel situation so obviously demonstrates, the idea that terror can be stopped through force is not only short-sighted, but extremely dangerous. It's what those of us who warned against the Iraq invasion feared, and there seems to be nothing but comfirmation of our fear. The Independent characterizes it nicely:

The wave of suicide attacks in an arc that stretches from Morocco and Algeria through Israel ­ where seven were killed yesterday ­ to Saudi Arabia, Chechnya and Pakistan have been mounted by different violent groups for different reasons. Yet they stand as testimony to the inaccuracy of President George Bush's view that America is winning the "war on terror". They also fortify the position of those who say the war in Iraq was not so much part of that war as a diversion from it ­ and that it has fuelled anti-Western attacks rather than reduced them.

And despite the arrest of four men in Saudi Arabia yesterday, the authorities in Riyadh admit that the masterminds of last Monday's bomb attacks are still on the loose.

Only days ago, Mr Bush declared that "al-Qa'ida is on the run" and that "about half of all the top al-Qa'ida operatives are either jailed or dead". In either case, he said, "they are not a problem any more".

Yet they are a problem. Some of their elements may have been badly dented by the US campaign against them, notably in Afghanistan. But last week's calculated and carefully planned anti-Western attacks, coupled with a new alleged tape from Osama bin Laden, have proved that they are still in business, and that significant numbers of their operatives are willing to destroy themselves in the name of their beliefs.

Sometimes you just don't want to hear the next newscast.

posted by Jeff | 7:17 PM |

Led mainly by newbie Bob Graham, the Democratic presidential candidates are trying to stake out some ground on the terrorism front. But what ground? Mainly criticism.

"We have let Al Qaeda off the hook," Mr. Graham said, as members of the municipal workers union here rose in applause. "We had them on the ropes close to dismantlement, and then we we moved resources out of Afghanistan and Pakistan to fight the war in Iraq. We let them regenerate."

Howard Dean, the former governor of Vermont, called the war in Iraq a diversion that had not left the United States any safer. "We have a president who talks tough on homeland security but is strangling the city and the towns and not giving them the money that is necessary to protect them," Dr. Dean said.

Representative Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri said, "We are vulnerable to future attacks because this administration has not done its job and has not increased our ability to have homeland security."

On the one hand, it's good someone's calling the President on his policies (as it seems the media won't). But really, without a serious plan, this is going to start to ring very hollow very soon. Terrorism is a serious issue, and I think everyone would be interested to hear solutions to it. If the Dems have any hope of winning the presidency (and I've said I don't think they do), they'll have to come up with more than just empty condemnation.

More promising it the fight brewing about how best to address health care. Gephardt's already proposed a plan, and now Dean has responded. Gephardt's plan would require employers to pick up the tab (and be reimbursed 60%), and Dean's would expand current systems and add incentives for employers. Gephardt's in particular seems unworkable and fairly lame--but neither gets at the heart of the issue, which is skyrocketing costs associated with health care. Their plans treat the symptoms, but the disease goes untouched.

Still, it's a step in the right direction. The proposals are positive and concrete, and give the candidates something real to talk about.

posted by Jeff | 7:05 PM |

Saturday, May 17, 2003  

The O'Reilly Facts

A fairly interesting development over on Eschaton, from a post this morning. Recalling a quote from Bill O'Reilly pre-war, Atrios posted:

"'If we don't find weapons of mass destruction in a week....allright?...and tons of them...I'll apologize to the American people...hell, I'll resign.'

"(not 100% on this quote, so if anyone can verify it that'd be great. He has said he'd have to apologize if no WMDS are found, but I can't find the 'resign' part.)"

No sooner posted than his intrepid readers were on the case. Jim E. struck first. Quotoing from transcripts of an April 22 show:

O'REILLY: Colonel, if weapons of mass destruction aren't found, your reputation, my reputation -- because I will have to apologize because I bought into it, I bought into it -- and out of a scale 1 to 10, 10 is the best, how certain are you that we're going to find these weapons of mass destruction?
MAGINNIS: There's a 10 there, Bill.

[A little later in the conversation]:
O'REILLY: Real fast, Colonel, any prediction of when something is going to happen on your part? Real fast.

MAGINNIS: In the next two weeks, we are going to have many hundreds of people in there. I would say within a month, we will have a lot of..

O'REILLY: All right, a month from today, we'll do this story again, and then we have it on tape. Gentlemen, thanks very much. Very interesting

Next was Elvis56, who's started a website to track O'Reilly's backtracks. Next, it was Mbrolio who sussed out a transcript of O'Reilly's vanity column Talking Points Memo, with this nice quote:

"But the leaders of those organizations have to be held accountable. If no weapons of mass destruction are found in Iraq, President Bush must fire the men and women who misled him. There's no spinning this. Americans have a right to know exactly why we went to war and the entire WMD scenario. Talking Points believes the President should address the issue in the next few weeks and lay it all on the line."

Thi big winner so far, though, is Jim E, returning with quotes culled from Lexis-Nexus (March 18, 2003).

"Here's, here's the bottom line on this for every American and everybody in the world, nobody knows for sure, all right? We don't know what he has. We think he has 8,500 liters of anthrax. But let's see. But there's a doubt on both sides. And I said on my program, if, if the Americans go in and overthrow Saddam Hussein and it's clean, he has nothing, I will apologize to the nation, and I will not trust the Bush Administration again, all right? But I'm giving my government the benefit of the doubt. . . .

[And later in the interview]:
". . . if he has 8,500 liters of anthrax that he's not going to give up, even though the United Nations demanded that he do that, we are doing the right thing. If he doesn't have any weapons, then we are doing the wrong thing. So, we'll see."

There you have it folks: "I will not trust the Bush Administration again, all right?" Welcome to the club, Bill. (Oh, and we'll gather around the TV when you're ready to apologize.)

posted by Jeff | 10:36 AM |

Friday, May 16, 2003  

The Moderate Mistake

Yesterday, the blogosphere was afire with the Democratic Leadership Council's memo to Democrats. (Among those covering the story were Kos, CalPundit, Atrios, and Rantavation.) In the memo, the DLC slammed Howard Dean and promoted a moderate approach.

Rather than defend Dean—whom I'm not clear is a great candidate—let me address the message at the heart of the memo: the DLC wants Dems to go moderate. The argument is sprinkled with terms like "activist" and "elitist" (by which the DLC means "liberal"), and "common man" and "middle class" (by which it means "moderate"). Well lemme tell ya, "moderate" candidates are about as effective in getting Democrats elected as promoting the Bush tax cuts.

Clinton left a strategy legacy that the moderates are the key to the Democratic success. I think it's time to challenge that assumption. First, look at the Republicans. Did their success come by sacrificing everything to moderate swing voters? Of course not. Republicans are successful now because they followed the far right base of their party. Bush is particularly successful at pushing his extreme agenda, despite pandering not at all to moderates. Successful leaders have a strong vision and they carry it through their policy decisions. (See an example in the blog below.)

Now, let's look at the Clinton example. The pander-to-the-moderates strategy was successful for him, but there’s no evidence it’s a winner for someone less charismatic or less good-looking. During his administration, the Democrats lost a lot of ground, and they failed to make it up in last year's midterms (a first for the party not holding the Presidency).

With this memo, the DLC makes the same mistake the Democrats have been making for years: thinking that if they can only win a majority on the policy positions, they’ll win elections. But people don’t apply a mathematical formula to candidates' policy positions when they’re determining whom to vote for, they vote for the candidate who has a vision. (In fact, there’s little correlation between policy and votes at all—voters hate Bush's policies, but they love his leadership.)

Dean may or may not be the candidate for the Democrats. But he has been successful at forwarding a vision and stirring up interest—something no other candidate has done. In attacking his candidacy, the DLC has it exactly backwards. They also have it wrong when they think only moderates will win. Moderates have had control of the Democratic Party long enough to demonstrate their strategy works—it obviously doesn't. People want a vision, and moderates can only offer a position. It's time for the Democrats to embrace candidates with a vision, and that means liberal candidates.

posted by Jeff | 11:02 AM |

Thursday, May 15, 2003  

Executing the Three-Point Strategy: An Economics Example

"Bush’s tax cut's only benefit the ultra-rich. He’s totally in bed with big business, and all his policies are barely-hidden givebacks to corporate fat cats. Not only will the tax cut have no effect on the economy, in the long run it will drag it under. As your candidate for _______, I'd exercise fiscal moderation and only give selective tax cuts for people who will really go out and spend it."

"America's the land of opportunity, one of the most entrepreneur-friendly countries on the globe. The course of American history is the visionary course charted by those creative, innovative business leaders. Any kind of economic growth will come when the next wave of entrepreneurs create new industries from scratch.

"Let me tell you about a great American business. Company X got its start in 1962 when Mr. Smith decided old mousetraps didn’t work very well. Working with his wife and their two sons, Mr. Smith built a better mousetrap. Now Company X employs 600 people in the ________ area, and is the national leader in mousetrap production. Company X starts its employees at a wage twice the national average, and offers full benefits, including on-site day care and a generous retirement package. The retention rate at Company X is legendary; they receive 200 applications a year for just a dozen openings. And what about business? Well, even during this 3-year recession we’re experiencing, Company X has continued to meet or exceed earnings forecasts. They've maintained a healthy cashflow, remain in the black, and have positioned themselves to continue to lead the sector.

"That's what American business is all about: creativity and accountability. America didn’t become the most prosperous country in the world by creating an environment where corporations moved their operations offshore, failed to pull their own weight at home, and failed to disclose their business practices. America can only pull itself out of this recession by relying on the health and transparency of its business sector.

"That's why as your next ____________, I’ll implement my Business Partner Initiative. Through this initiative, we’ll work with local business to make sure they stay right here at home and keep the benefit—for our workers, our economy, our markets, and of course, the individual business—right here at home."

(Then detail a policy that would offer a range of incentives to businesses that have good salaries, offer health care and other benefits, do R&D in new industries, are green, etc. It would probably also identify harsher punishment for Enron-type businesses. Or something like that--anyway, you see the point.)

[This is the first in an ongoing series of strategy briefs from the Institute for Liberal Politics here in the Big Brain division of Notes on the Atrocities. Readers are welcome to steal and propogate at their own discretion.]

posted by Jeff | 3:04 PM |

The Turtle and the Snake

There's that old story we've all heard about a snake who wished to get to the other side of the river. He asked a turtle for a ride. The turtle declined, pointing out that the snake would just bite him. But why would I do that?, argued the snake, for then we'd both die. So the turtle took the snake across the river, and just as they reached the far side, the snake bit him. As he lay dying, the turtle asked, "why'd you do it?" And the snake said: "what did you expect?--I'm a snake."

All of us except Zell Miller and Bob Nelson, that is.

posted by Jeff | 9:39 AM |

Matter of time...

"The US commander in Iraq, Gen Tommy Franks, was accused of war crimes on Wednesday in a Belgian lawsuit that has provoked stern warnings from Washington. Nineteen plaintiffs filed the suit under Belgium's controversial "universal competence" law, which allows charges to be brought regardless of where the alleged crimes took place."

"The chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen Richard Myers, said on Tuesday the impending lawsuit was very serious and could have an effect on the travel arrangements of US officials. 'It's looked upon by the US government as a very, very serious situation,' he said during a visit to NATO headquarters in Brussels. The alliance itself sought to downplay the affair. 'We're not considering moving NATO, or anything like that,' said an official.

This story is in the Times as well, but this particular citation comes from Jihad Unspun, which is in itself worth a look.

These aren't the first charges of war crimes. Earlier this month, Bush and Blair were both charged in Switzerland. Obviously, these aren't going to pose serious difficulties for the President or the Prime Minister. But it is indicative of the rising level of antipathy abroad for US and British leadership.

And of course, the administration is only adding fuel to anger's fire. For example, the Washington Times recently published a story about France aiding fleeing Baathists, citing an anonymous "American intelligence source." Aside from that source (Rove?, Rumsfled?), not a single intelligence agency would confirm it. But what did Rummy himself say about it? "France has historically had a very close relationship with Iraq. My understanding is that it continued right up until the outbreak of the war. What took place thereafter, we'll find out."

This stuff plays great at home with the anti-Bordeaux set, but abroad (and not just in France), this is the kind of rhetoric that makes people consider war crimes suits.

posted by Jeff | 9:28 AM |
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