Thursday, September 30, 2004

OK, OK, I can't resist

A few preliminary observations:

1. Bush dodged blatantly on 2 questions: first, the issue of whether the election of Kerry would make the nation more vulnerable to terrorist attacks; second, the question of whether what has happened in Iraq would make him rethink a future pre-emptive strike. Not surprised; just disappointed.

2. I was surprised by how quickly Bush seemed to fall apart, needing to rely on his talking points rather than engagement with the issues. I expected more. By my unoffical count (read the transcripts yourself), he mentioned the dangers of mixed messages and/or so-called changes in core values 14 times, and said 5 times how much work it is to lead a war. I'm sure the parents of the 1,054 have the fullest sympathy.

3. I was impressed to see Kerry say that he may have made a mistake about how he talks about the war, whereas Bush made a mistake in how he handled it--which is worse?

4. Also appreciated his rebuttal to the insistence on mixed messages by asking what kind of mixed message it is to insist and nuclear disarmament while pouring money into developing bunker-busting nuclear weapons.

5. It bothers me that Bush claims by implication that the "enemy" who perpetrated the 9/11 attacks is the same as the "enemy" who killed schoolkids in Russia. That is the problem with fighting a war against a floppy word like terrorism: the issues in the two cases while not entirely dissimilar are not the same, nor are the agents. By throwing around terrorism=enemy, when terrorism is a method not a doctrine or a person or a group, we get into dangerous territory.

6. Thank you, Kerry, for bringing Afghanistan back into the conversation. Oh yeah! That is an unresolved problem that shows signs of worsening.

7. I was surprised that the best rebuttal Bush could come up with to Kerry's plan for dealing with homeland security was, "I don't think we want to get to how he's going to pay for that" (may not be a perfect quotation). Kerry had just said how he would pay for it.

8. So glad to hear that the Patriot Act is key to securing liberty. What liberty would that be, exactly?

9. Extra points to Kerry to quoting Bush, Sr. re Iraq, who wrote in his book that there would be "no viable exit strategy."

10. Best ironic moment: when Bush said that by speaking clearly and making clear that we mean what we say, we have made the world a better place. Which clear speech was that? And which parts of what we said did we really mean and which did we not mean? Seems to me there is more of the latter--and of the unclear speech generally.

Forgive lack of better cogency or wit. Sleep beckons.

For a good blow-by-blow from during the debate, look at Jarrett House North's 4-part harmony.

And Tony Pierce is in search of one good caption.

Nuculer moolahs

Here is the letter I sent to the editor of the Greenville News:

Dear Editor,

Tonight's debate confirmed that President Bush is still trying to confuse the American people with misleading statements. He talked of the importance of disarming Saddam Hussein, even though no WMDs were found. He said that he made terrorism prevention a priority for the FBI, even though over 100,000 hours of unlistened-to tapes have been collected but not analyzed. He said he pursued Al Qaeda where they have tried to hide, even though his tactics let bin Laden escape, and Bush's charge into Iraq has encouraged foreign fighters to recruit there . Of course Iraq is central to the war on terror, he said: that is why Zarqawi is there. A closer look would show that Zarqawi was *not* there until Bush charged in unilaterally, protecting, as John Kerry pointed out, only the Oil Ministry.

The American people deserve to understand the issues surrounding homeland security, terrorism, and the war in Iraq, but Bush consistently misleads them. It was a breath of fresh air to watch Kerry pinpoint specifics and call Bush out on his various misleads. Meanwhile, Bush could only repeat his same tired assertions of mixed messages (mentioned by my count 14 times) and staying the course. I hope that people were listening : how often do we get to hear 1.5 hours of the candidates themselves, rather than the soundbits usually presented in the media?

Tomorrow I will post my longer version, but for tonight I am too exhausted.

Happy happy, joy joy

The thing is, I shouldn't post the same cartoon I just posted about 2 posts ago.

Oh, but it is just so relevant, so look at it again, and then keep reading. THank you, Rhetoricians for Peace!

Found this article on, and see? I still have not made it toward my TV. Here is affirmation of the kind of media control we in America really need, because I am getting so tired of bad news. From the Christian Science Monitor, Tom Reagan's "Pentagon wants 'uplifting accounts' about Iraq."

Well, sure, and I want the USA not to have gone there in the first place, but guess what: I can't make the spin say that.

But the Pentagon can.

Check this out:

Thursday morning in Baghdad multiple car bombs and rocket attacks killed at least 40 people, including many children and several US soldiers. The Bush administration, The Washington Post reports Thursday, worried that negative stories like these are dominating the news headlines during an election period, has decided to send out Iraq Americans to bring what the Defense Department calls "the good news" about the situation in Iraq to US military bases.

The Post also reports that the administration is moving to "curtail distribution" of reports that show the situation in Iraq growing worse. In particular, the US Agency of International Development said this week that it will "restrict distribution" of a report by its contractor, Kroll Security International, that showed the number of attacks by insurgents had been increasingly dramatically over the past few months. Attacks have risen to 70 a day, up from 40-50, since Iraqi Prime Minister Alawi took office in June.

Here is one example that the article lists:

In one sign that the administration and the military are working harder to keep a lid on negative stories, Salon reports that an Army Reserve staff sargent from Texas, with 20 years experience who is now serving in Iraq, may face up to 20 years in prison for "disloyalty and insubordination."The reason? He wrote an article criticizing the occupation of Iraq on an anti-war website, The article contained no classified information. In his commentary, Sgt. Al Lorentz offered a "bleak assessment" of the situation.

"I have come to the conclusion that we cannot win here for a number of reasons. Ideology and idealism will never trump history and reality," wrote Lorentz, who gives four key reasons for the likely failure: a refusal to deal with reality, not understanding what motivates the enemy, an overabundance of guerrilla fighters, and the enemy's shorter line of supplies and communication.

At last: I will get to wake up to good news every day, and instead of getting depressed by what I hear on NPR or read in the local paper, I will be uplifted and regain my optimism. I simply cannot wait to live in this new world!

Can I get another one?

Just about an hour to go. You should get OFF the internet and move toward your TV.

Wow--I cannot believe I just wrote that. I never thought I'd say that.

Anyway, on your way toward your TV, have a quick look at Steve Cobble's post on "Fair Expectations."

He says:

George W. is right – it's time to end "the soft bigotry of low expectations."

I'm talking about the presidential debates. It's long past time to quit treating George W. like some precious little elementary school kid from the boondocks. He's supposed to be the president. He needs to be held to the same debate standards to which other first-term presidents were held, the standards that helped derail his father and Jimmy Carter.

Standards like truth. Coherence. His actual record in office. An ability to go beyond scripted sound bites. Some connection between the dreamscapes that his PR people paint for him, and the cruel reality on the ground that his policies have helped to create.

Why has this happened?

Because in the past, Bush's reputation for mangling phrases, for making up words, for not knowing what he was talking about, was an asset when the media judged the debates. He "won", not because he did better than his opponents, but because he did "better than expected," according to the pundit class.

And though he has gotten away with that for a lot of his political career, we don't need to let it continue:

Bush is the president now (whether he really won or not). When he says something, it should be judged by real, factual benchmarks, not artificially enhanced by "the soft bigotry of low expectations."

Go forward civicly and JUDGE. And then write about what you see and hear.

Spin control

Do not think that your civic responsibilities end tonight at 10:30 pm EDT. That is only when the debate ends. Your work can begin then.

Your job is to analyze what you hear and see. Think about the messages and how they are communicated. Pay attention especially to the rhetoric, arguments, and language of the positions. Take notes. Imagine that the 32 pages of rules included expectations about logic, enthymemes, manipulation, transparency. What are the candidates' assumptions? What assumptions are hidden? What don't they want you to know?

After you consider your analysis, here are some things you can do (I am adapting these suggestions from the Democratic National Committee, but you should use them to express whatever your views: the important thing is for thoughtful people's voices to be heard.):

National and local news organizations will be conducting online polls during and after the debate asking for readers' opinions. Look for online polls at these national news websites, and make sure to vote in every one of them:

ABC News:
CBS News:
Fox News:
USA Today:
And be sure to check the websites of your local newspapers and TV stations for online polls. It is crucial that you do this in the minutes immediately following the debate.

Immediately after the debate, go online and write a letter to the editor of your local paper. Say where you thought candidates dodged questions, gave real answers, used double speak, clouded the truth, etc. Be specific. Avoid sites that encourage you to send form letters; editorial editors ignore them.

Consider double posting your letter to your blog. That way even if it is not published, your analysis will be out there. Besides, many newspapers have word limits. You can post your longer version--with more examples and analysis--in your blog.

Furthermore, you are people who read and write and think critically. This is a time when that matters. Not everyone who watches tonight has that critical edge, so it is your job to use yours--and pass your findings on to others.

Don't skip the letter to the editor step. Remember how many people there are in your local committee who don't read blogs.

Do you listen to national or local call-in shows on the radio? How about on TV? Call them and let them know what you thought and why. Again, be specific.

Here are some national shows to get you started. (All times are Eastern.)

Air America (all day): 646-274-2346
Alan Colmes (10 a.m. to 1 p.m.): 212-301-5900
Ed Shultz (3 p.m. to 6 p.m.): 701-232-1525
Bev Smith (7 p.m. to 10 p.m.): 412-325-4197
Doug Stephen (5 a.m. 10 a.m.): 1-800-510-8255

Come on, people
This is a big chance to let your voices be heard. A lot has been said recently about the power of the blogosphere to shape opinion and cover elections.

Do your part.

I ♥ John Humphrys

Did you hear John Humphrys's interview with Tony Blair on the BBC?

It was impressive. Mr. Humphrys did not let Mr. Blair off the hook easily. For instance, when Blair said that he could not apologize for having taken Saddam Hussein out of power--one of thos apologies that, of course, is supposed to act like anything but--Humphrys noted that regime change was not the stated goal of the operation in Iraq, and so claiming that as a success does not work. And when Blair noted that "everyone" believed there were WMDs in Iraq, Humphrys pointed to such exceptions as Russia, France, Germany. When Blair answered that France and Germany also believed that there were WMDs there but had different ideas about how to respond, Humphrys pointed out that Russia never believed the WMDs were there.

Time and again, Humphrys took Blair's response to a first (often probing in itself) question and demanded further expanation, complication, contextualization, justification.

And let me add that this was no brief interview. I was listening to it during a long drive before which I had had one or three cups of coffee, and so I had to find what Messrs Humphrys and Blair would call the loo, and when I came out, it was still going on. I don't know how long the interview lasted, but it carried me through much of southeastern Virginia.

And another impressive thing was that Blair actually took the questions seriously, trying to answer them, rather than replacing answers with "talking points." I did not agree with a lot of the things he said, and I'm sad to say he did seem to buy into his own rationalizations, but he took the interview as something appropriate to do as the prime minister.

(That the UK is gearing up for an election, too, probably doesn't hurt.)

Two conclusions, cleverly posed as questions:

1. Would Bush ever agree to be interviewed in this way?

2. What American journalist would push Bush as Mr. Humphrys pushed Mr. Blair?

p.s. Thank you to Low Culture for the ♥. We ♥ you, Low Culture, and we ♥ you, cinetrix, for pointing us to that site.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

O, to be a moderator

If you're like me, you've already set aside a serious block of time for tomorrow evening to watch the Bush-Kerry debate. I have the popcorn measured out, and just before 9 p.m. tomorrow (EDT) I will heat up my non-hydrogenated oil, get my gen-u-wine butter ready for melting, pop the corn, and take out my pencil. My friends can testify that 9 p.m. is late-nite for me (embarrassing), but this is worth it. This is serious spin time, sound bite time, heavily researched gesture time, carefully ruled-on camera-angle time.

I got to see James Fallows analyzing Bush's and Kerry's style on C-SPAN the other day too. The man understands rhetoric and presentation, and more importantly the distinction between logical debate (of the style we all practiced when wee tots) and presidential debate.

If you haven't read it yet, run do not walk your pointer to his article in the Atlantic monthly, "When George Meets John."

Interesting discussion of the 32-page agreement on rules for tomorrow night's debate on Talk of the Nation today.

But in the meantime, I am curious: What question would you most like to ask the candidates? And what is your wager for the topic that neither will touch with a ten-foot pole? According to Paul Roberts, neither will want to talk about energy policy or oil policy. He was convincing in his reasoning in a segment called "Oil Interview" on The World today.

All whipped up

Before this weekend I could say that never before has something in Gourmet magazine got me whipped into a fury. I can't say that anymore.

Let me set the scene.

I was deep into a relaxing weekend with the family, far away from the internet and surrounded only by the most limited news (local newspaper + local tv). I was even managing to wean myself away from 24-7 hurricane watching, since I lacked The Weather Channel.

But then yesterday I read Nina Teicholz's article "Heart Breaker," from Gourmet's June 2004 issue (article begins on p. 100). I apologize, but I cannot seem to find the thing online. So go to your library--you know, the old way--and get it.

The gist is, that "trans fats" are much worse for your body than saturated fats, even though there was much hubbub about the latter and we are just now hearing about the former. For those of you who are not nutrition nuts, trans fats are a multibillion dollar industry. They are made by bombarding vegetable oil with hydrogen, thereby converting it from a liquid into a solid. They appear in many cookies, candies, cakes, crackers, margarines, and fried foods. In July the FDA announced that beginning in July 2006 manufacturers must print information about trans fats on labels.

The problem with trans fats is that in addition to their association with cancer, they raise the bad cholesterol (LDL) and lower good cholesterol (HDL). That means they can cause heart disease. According to Dr. Walter Willett, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard, for every 4-5 grams of trans fat you eat (every day?), your risk of heart disease nearly doubles. He has figured that on average Americans eat 5-6 g of trans fats daily.

The article starts by telling the story of a publication by Dr. Mary Enig:

"Here's the paper I wrote that made me realize just now much hot water I could get myself into on this issue," says Enig, shuffling through files in the suburban Maryland offices of the consulting firm Enig and Associates, where she is director of the nutritional services division. Even at age 73, the semi-retired Enig manages to exude an air of industry and determination. She pulls out a folder now wilting with age and waves a 1978 article published in the Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. In it, she argued that a major government report correlating cancer with saturated fats was, in fact, wrong. The data cited in the report showed a much stronger link between cancer and trans fats, asserted Enig, and deserved further study.

"Not too long after that, these two guys from the Institute of Shortening and Edible Oils--the trans fat lobby, basically--visited me and, boy, were they angry," she recalls. "They said they'd been keeping a careful watch to prevent articles like mine from coming out in the literature and didn't know how this horse had gotten out of the barn."

To my mind, one of the most important pieces of information in that passage is the date: 1978. In other words, science figured out a long time ago that these substances pose serious health risks, but only now is the FDA responding.

Teicholz writes:

Even more galling than the constantly changing information we get from so-called authorities, though, is the question of how something as harmful as trans fats managed to make its way into 40 percent of baked goods (cookies, crackers, cakes, etc.) despite warnings dating back nearly 50 years.

Trans fats are a multibillion dollar a year industry; companies that hydrogenate oils include Bunge Foods, Cargill, and Archer Daniels Midland. (And the list of manufacturers that use trans fats in their products accounts for almost every major company in the food industry: Kraft, Nabisco, Kellogg, and Nestle are just a few.) Many of the companies that hydrogenate are represented by the Institute of Shortening and Edible Oils, which for decades has been quietly working to squelch bad news about trans fats. As far back as 1968, the ISEO was mentioned in an internal memo written by the medical director of the American Heart Association: According to the memo, the ISEO objected to the AHA's intention to include a warning about trans fats in its dietary guidelines; subsequently, the AHA took it out.


If you want more information about the trans fat content in foods, you can check out the listing on the TransFree America website. There is also good information about Trans Fats on the website of the Center for Science in the Public Interest .

But since accurate labeling of this information does not really exist yet, your best bet is to look for the words "hydrogenated" or "partially hydrogenated" or "shortening" on food labels, especially when they occur toward the top of the list. Based on what I've found in the last couple of days, I think you'll be surprised by its ubiquity.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

I just can't decide

Should I get the '04 H1 model Hummer or the '05 H2? Sure, the base model of the H2 starts at $51,800, and the other models range from $54K to $56K (about $500 more for the H2 SUT, which stands for Sport Utility Truck--hooah!), but how do I know that I'm getting the quality there that I could get by paying $117,508 for the H1 Wagon?

The Hummer website claims that the H2 is no girlie-man SUV, and that it "proves that there is still one out there that can stop and give you 20." And it does have a 32-gallon fuel tank capacity. I see that it is longer and lighter than the H1, with about 1.5 times the horsepower, but it can only ford 20 inches of water, while the H1 can ford 30.

And they say that the H1 "gives you an incredible feeling of freedom, and allows you to experience the world, and your place in it, as never before."

Is that the freedom of knowing you don't need to worry about whether it's such a hot idea to drive a vehicle that, because it is so large and heavy, does not have to meet governmental fuel standards? I read that Hummer isn't even required to publish its fuel economy figures, but that drivers report about 10 mpg for normal use.

Let's see: that means in my H2 I could travel 320 miles on one tank of gas, although there are pollution elements to worry about. My same source says:

Based on G.M.'s optimistic claim that it gets13 mpg, an H2 will produce 3.4 metric tons of carbon emissions in a typical year, nearly double that of G.M.'s Chevrolet Malibu sedan.

Aha--here is the REAL bonus:

The H2 is a tax loophole. Under Bush's new tax plan, business owners can deduct the entire cost of their $55,000 H2. If you are in the highest tax bracket, that's a tax savings of nearly $20,000! The government rewards you more savings for buying an H2 than you'd get for buying an electric car.

We are back to the same old deal, where if you can shell out $55K for a car, then you can get it tax-free. God bless America.

Jim McCraw wrote in Car and Driver about the H2 SUT, which is supposed to combine a pickup truck with the standard Hummer:

There isn't enough room in this rugged pickup truck's bed for a dirt bike, a personal watercraft, a mountain bike, or a snowmobile—all things you might want to haul into some craggy interior portion of Our Great Nation. Not one of these will fit into the bed with the tailgate in the up position. And you can't put the tailgate down to add a tailgate extender without having the spare tire swinging around in traffic. So, you have to carry only what fits in the bed and stops at the tailgate.

We would be interested to read a reasonable justification from anyone, for owning and operating this vehicle.

But here's the scary part

Read's John Kerry story from 9/21 first.

Now here is our concern. A friend pointed out yesterday that he had read an article (if you know, please tell us the source) about W's presence in debates in years past, back when he was running for governor of Texas. Apparently he WAY outargued Ann Richards, who is herself quite articulate and forceful. Apparently he was smart, quick, even used polysyllabic words--none of that blundering he does on tape these days.

Our friend's assessment? That this new act is not bad speechwriting, or even some sad attempt to seem like an Ordinary Shmoe (that had been our take), but lowering expectations, convincing the American People to take what they can get.

Our friend may even be more cyncial than we are.

He's on a roll again wrote yesterday about getting people registered to vote, and how that can turn the disenfranchised into, well, the other thing. Go Tony. He says:

if you can register two people who wouldnt vote if it werent for you then maybe one of them will vote.

thats called making a difference busbloggers. in boy scouts you would have gotten a Civil Service badge. but since this is the real world, it will get you a real president instead of this dillweed we got now.

Go Tony!

Then he tells a good Kerry story:

so heres my john kerry story for the day.

as you know im a big fan of the Regis and Kelly Lee show. well this morning old regis had a great show, sen kerry and tiger woods. not bad. two guys who oughtta be doing a lot better than theyre doing.

so kerry is being asked about this and that and regis says so what about these debates. and it might have been a set up, like kerry might have said, hey ask me about the debates when i get out there

cuz when reege goes how about these debates

kerry goes, yeah we have three lined up but the president wants to have a few lifelines for the hard questions.

nearly choked on my apple juice it was so funny.

But don't take our word for it; check Tony out for yourselves.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

We are nothing

OK, OK, we give. Our fury hath no fury like the fury of David Rees, who gifted us yesterday with installment #41 of Get Your War On. Go look at it now, and if you have not been following all along, start over at the beginning.

David Rees, we bow down to you and your bad-ass furious self.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

This illegal filesharing

Have a look at the two new tracks from Negativland's forthcoming album. We remember when thanks to Island Records, Negativland was forced to recall its satirical take on the pop music biz--and oh man that was about 10 years ago. These audio art responses bring us up to date on the intellectual property issues facing audio artists like their bad selves.

And if you're interested the how copyright law hinders musical creativity, have a look at the resources compiled here. Some of the links are dead, but it's good stuff anyway.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Isn't it ironic...

So I had this great mix tape (I know, I know) going, all in honor of Ivan and his terribilita'--but NO! The power went out.

I suppose it doesn't matter that much, since after all I couldn't listen to the damn thing, but how often does this kind of inspiration strike?

For those who are wondering, I got this far:

The Doors: Riders on the Storm
Leon Russell: It's a Hard Rain Gonna Fall
Eva Cassidy: Stormy Monday
Brook Benton: Rainy Night in Georgia
Eurythmics: Here Comes the Rain Again
Magazine: Weather
The Weather Girls: It's Raining Men
Amii Stewart: Knock on Wood

I have some good Neil Young, Police, Natalie Cole, Astrud Gilberto et al. still to come, so COME ON Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative!

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Hear me roar

Nobody thinks I'm funny when I say "Ivan" ee-VAHN, like the tsar. What I know is that we're settling in for "duration rain event" numero duo, which is code for "Hope you don't live in the flood plane." And for me it also means a duration sinus event, since my head seems to compensate for low atmospheric pressure by increasing mucus production. More than you wanted to know, I know.

And of course because the storm came in in the middle of the night, I missed the live reporting from my hero Stephanie Abrams in Mobile. Hard to imagine that this could beat her coverage during Frances with her techie holding her legs to the ground so her Weather Channel jacket wouldn't carry her away like a parasail, during Frances.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

So what is a "key priority"?

Misleader reports that although the Bush administration promised to make the hunt for al Qaeda "a key priority, obviously, for me and my administration," saying "[We] do everything we can to chase [al Qaeda] down and bring them to justice," they have done anything but that. They explain:

The New York Times reports "Three years after the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and the Pentagon, the Central Intelligence Agency has fewer experienced case officers assigned to its headquarters unit dealing with Osama bin Laden than it did at the time of the attacks." The bin Laden unit is "stretched so thin that it relies on inexperienced officers rotated in and out every 60 to 90 days, and they leave before they know enough to be able to perform any meaningful work."[2]

The revelation comes months after the Associated Press reported the Bush Treasury Department "has assigned five times as many agents to investigate Cuban embargo violations as it has to track Osama bin Laden's" financial infrastructure.[3] It also comes after USA Today reported that the President shifted "resources from the bin Laden hunt to the war in Iraq" in 2002. Specifically, Bush moved special forces tracking al Qaeda out of Afghanistan and into Iraq war preparations. He also left the CIA "stretched badly in its capacity to collect, translate and analyze information coming from Afghanistan."[4] That has allowed these terrorists to regroup: according to the senior intelligence officials in July of this year, bin Laden and other top al Qaeda leaders are now directing a plot "to carry out a large-scale terror attack against the United States" and are overseeing the plan "from their remote hideouts somewhere along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border."[5]

Misleader gives sources for these claims on their site.

The baggy language of the War on Terror has allowed this kind of disparity between assertion and action. Meanwhile, the US-led occupation of Iraq has allowed al Qaeda to use that nation as a prime recruiting spot.

Let's roll!

For those of you who have been looking for audio art renditions of our current president--in the spirit of the Evolution Control Committee's take on his dear old dad--check out rx's recent work.

There is a version of "Sunday Bloody Sunday," starring W on lead vocals.

"For too long" is right!

While you're there, have a look at rx's other tracks, including "kgb-tv" and "dick is a killer."

Tuesday, September 14, 2004


Just because you're out of school doesn't mean you can't join the Rhetoricians for Peace and the National Council of Teachers of English in their 1984+20 project.

In short, the goals of the project:

The project is sponsored by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), and began at the College Composition and Communication Conference in March of 2004, with a motion by Rhetoricians for Peace member Harriet Malinowitz. The full text of the motion, which passed unanimously, is: "The intentional manipulation of public discourse for political and commercial purposes has intensified in recent years. In light of this, we urge NCTE to sponsor a national reading and writing assignment for fall 2004 on Orwell’s 1984 for colleges, high schools, communities, and libraries. In support, the NCTE should create resources, forums, and websites for student, teacher, and community projects."

Support materials for the project may be found here. Why not start a reading group in your own community, be it physical or virtual?

Tips for new readers

Check out Wendy McElroy's article about critical reading. I cannot assess her analysis of the problems with Maloney's and Dingell's study, since I've not studied the information she has, but her 5 tips for critical reading are superb.

If only the world were populated with excellent critical readers and thinkers--what world would we live in then?

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Renaissance Woman?

Today's Greenville News has a profile of a woman who has started her own business. Here is an excerpt:

"We have a different way of life in Brazil," she said. "You always had time for family. You could sit down an have a drink and conversation before sitting down to a meal with your family and then having coffee in another room after dinner.

"Here it's always stressful. As soon as dinner is over, you clear the table and run the dishwasher."

Rogers said she grew up in a family that employed six maids, and added it's not unusual for middle-class Brazilians to have at least one or two servants who do the normal cleaning duties and more--like polishing silver, shining shoes, etc.

So she has started a business to supply such services to Greenvillians. But don't be fooled: SHE won't be shining your shoes, but rather training employees--who she employs in her own house for six weeks before she sends them out on jobs--to do so.

I don't mean to imply that this business is necessarily any more questionable than any cleaning service, although the owner of the company does insist that her business is "more than just a cleaning company. We do the things that people don't have time to do"--like polishing silver, ironing, and detailed cleaning.

Any time we employ others to do our housekeeping we are buying our free time at the expense of those without the economic luxury to buy their own in a similar manner. I wonder, for instance, when the person doing the washing up for those who employ this service (called "Brazilian Butler") has a chance to relax with (presumably) her family.

And I do wonder why this article presents her business as if servants were a great innovation, and a business breakthrough worthy of the article's title, "Renaissance Woman." What the article (and its subject) see as culture differences between the US and Brazil are actually more rooted in the ways that class inequality is manipulated in the two contexts.

What does it say about our culture that when we earn enough to pay people to do our dirty work, we do so?

The true swing voter

Republican pollster Lance Tarrance and former Bush administration official Leslie Sanchez claim to have discovered “What Women Voters Want.”

They want “feminine appeal,” which seems to involve three things: Bush’s “building an emotional connection, humanizing himself and portraying himself as the candidate who can keep America safe.”

Apparently “an emotional connection” hinges on feel-good rhetoric. The example Tarrance and Sanchez use is Bush’s remark that “In the heart of this great city, we saw tragedy arrive on a quiet morning.” I can hardly begin to express my emotional connection to this man: the principal emotion I feel is double outrage—-that he can’t create a cliché-free image and that he expects me to be moved by it.

(You can read Bush’s acceptance speech here, peppered with canned responses and applause reminiscent of the published versions of Mussolini’s speeches.)

Bush’s “humanization,” they say, comes through here:

He told a story to give Americans—-women in particular-—a glimpse into his persona: “I’ve held the children of the fallen, who are told their dad or mom is a hero, but would rather just have their mom and dad.”

Sure: what human being wouldn’t feel bad for a kid who lost a parent. Rhetoricians have, for a long time, appreciated the value of emotional appeal: if a listener can feel something, based on what a speaker says, they are more likely to listen.

But then the questions are, what are they going to listen to and what reasoning backs up the feelings? Tarrance and Sanchez say that women want a candidate who can portray himself as capable of keeping America safe. That assertion—-and the emphasis on Bush’s “persona”—-implies that women voters are more interested in image than reality, in feeling good than in knowing the truth. The women voters I know prefer that America be safe than be portrayed as safe. Are we more safe now that Iraq has become a recruitment center for “Islamist terror groups”? And now that Osama bin Laden’s name appears nowhere in the Bush acceptance speech because he has still not been brought to justice?

The Bush administration’s desire to appeal to women is hardly new—-it brought us “compassionate conservatism,” doublespeak for policies that have eroded environmental protections, led to stunning job losses, tried to demolish social security, sent soldiers to die for the president’s popularity ratings, and amassed a deficit our children and grandchildren will never pay down. And after years and years when feminists begged people to pay attention to the situation of women in Afghanistan under the Taliban, years during which the plight of women there received no attention from the American government, the Bush team seemed finally to prick up their ears and make Afghani women one of the causes they were fighting for—-now that American armed forces were going there to hunt down Osama.

The concluding sentence of Terrance and Sanchez’s piece:

In this presidential election, it is becoming more and more clear that the female voter is the true swing voter.

I guess women still play the same role for the current administration—-a target market to be manipulated

I offer several hints for those selling Bush. What women voters do not want is

· to be all lumped together as “the female voter,” regardless of views or motivations;
· to be condemned once again as changeable and fickle; and
· to be seen as a group easy to manipulate through transparent portrayals and personae.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

The nation and the state

Emilio Gentile's recent book The Struggle for Modernity: Nationalism, Futurism, and Fascism (Praeger 2003) begins with an introduction sketching phases in the development of Italian nationalism from the Risorgimento to Mussolini's era. He notes that fascist rhetoric and practice wedded nationalism and fascism: subjecting the nation to the myth of the totalitarian State, fascism actually contributed to the decay of feelings in the collective conscience of the Italians of national identity and loyalty to the nation-State. The decline of national patriotism almost started unknowingly during fascism and through the means of fascism, from the moment the fascist party conquered the monopoly on patriotism, identifying "Italian-ness" with its own ideology and claiming to make the nation an instrument of obtaining the ambitions of a totalitarian party. Eventually, totalitarian nationalism discredited patriotism and the authority of the nation-State in the souls of the Italians, transforming Italy into a despotic and arbitrary party-State.

Many intellectuals who had been brought up believing in patriotism and loyalty to one's nation in all circumstances, especially during a war, no longer felt the duty of allegiance to the nation-State in reaction to the fascist dictatorship and they wished the defeat of their own country in hopes of ridding themselves of fascism. (8)

Let me see: "Support our troops" rallies, party conventions at ground zero, declarations that war protesters are incapable of leadership. . . .