Archive for 2007

07w52:3 Bush Admin's 2007 Legal Fictions

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Legal Fictions:
The Bush administration’s dumbest legal arguments of the year.

| Dahlia Lithwick

Summary, in American MSM reverse order (the article expands on each):

10. The NSA’s eavesdropping was limited in scope
09. Scooter Libby’s sentence was commuted because it was excessive
08. The vice president’s office is not a part of the executive branch
07. The Guantanamo Bay detainees enjoy more legal rights than any prisoners of war in history.
06. Water-boarding may not be torture
05. Everyone who has ever spoken to the president about anything is barred from congressional testimony by executive privilege
04. Nine U.S. attorneys were fired by nobody, but for good reason
03. Alberto Gonzales
02. State secrets
01. The United States does not torture

07w52:2 Benazir Bhutto 1953-1907

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Goodreads attempts to be a document of the times, and I’d be remiss if I let the assassination of Benazir Bhutto pass without a related link. But for the most part, this comes with a caveat: nothing new to see here, move along. (Most of the flourishing articles are predictable tributes meeting dismay, and besides, assassination of politicians in cars is so 20th Century).

Daughter of Destiny: Benazir Bhutto, 1953-2007 | Christopher Hitchens

Benazir Bhutto | Wikipedia

07w52:1 Vietnam: Get over It

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Baby Boomers set to retire; the rest of us set to hear about it |
Link (
“Nice job, Boomers. You guys are like insecure children, needing praise and attention for every developmental milestone. The Greatest Generation has been forced to smile through your painful piano recitals for decades, and Generations X and Y are sick of you. But, of course, one must respect his elders, so in honor of the aging Boomers, we’ve asked Generation X to guest-edit a Baby Boomer edition of AARP magazine. Enjoy, you old hippies.”


07w51:4 Bush as a war criminal

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Wow. Just in time for Christmas, Andrew Sullivan sounding like Noam Chomsky.

The torture tape fingering Bush as a war criminal | Andrew Sullivan
“Any reasonable person examining all the evidence we have – without any bias – would conclude that the overwhelming likelihood is that the president of the United States authorised illegal torture of a prisoner and that the evidence of the crime was subsequently illegally destroyed. Congresswoman Jane Harman, the respected top Democrat on the House intelligence committee in 2003-06, put it as simply as she could: “I am worried. It smells like the cover-up of the cover-up.” It’s a potential Watergate. But this time the crime is not a two-bit domestic burglary. It’s a war crime that reaches into the very heart of the Oval Office. Yes, it is Hollywood time. And the ending of this movie is as yet unwritten. “

07w51:3 Jesus was a tulku

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Myself, I like the idea that Jesus was one of the first Jewish Buddhists, and that the so called ‘Jesus Cult’ was actually an attempt to create a sangha in Roman occupied Palestine; but unfortunately, it go so fucked up that Christianity evolved into something narrow-minded, power-hungry, and violent.

Merry Christmas everybody.

07w51:2 Mourning the Myth of the Cultural Elite

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An ode to snobs, and a rehashing of the PR of the previous GR:

The death of the cultural elite | Stephen Moss

// Comment: Consider the demographic of people who will read and care about this peice: a self-selecting group who are interested in the High Arts to begin with. And these from the comment thread:

gingerjon Comment No. 841691 December 20 15:5 London/gbr

“Have you ever read The Good Soldier?”


It’s not as good as Seinfeld.


Alarming Comment No. 841856 December 20 17:14 Manchester/gbr

This article would have merit if those who actually created art weren’t influenced by “low” art or vice versa. There’s no barriers except in the eyes of inveterate snobs. I can only assume there’s an episode of “Grumpy Old Men take on Culture” in the offing and the writer is making his bid to be included.

Stephen Moss ends his piece with this: ‘The great majority of popular culture in the UK is worthless, moronic, meretricious, self-serving, anti-democratic, sclerotic garbage: it’s the enemy of thought and change: it should be ignored, marginalised, trashed. There I’ve said it.’

All of those epithets work for me except the ‘anti-democratic’ one. We should distinguish between ‘popular culture’ and ‘broadcast culture’, since the examples of the article come from television, and much of what’s on television (especially those abysmal reality-shows) lives up to those insults. But not ‘anti-democratic’. In fact, they are especially democratic in that they appeal to a wide audience, and the dance and song shows actually encourage people to vote with their cell phones. If anything they represent attempts at cultural democracy. If they fail aesthetically, that may just be because snobs like the author, and other self-identifying elites who are more interested in consuming the pop culture of the previous century (I mean, isn’t Beethoven the Led Zepplin of the 1810s?) have refused to participate in it and bring to it their knowledge and influence it with their taste. What you have instead is the mess of a culture being formed from scratch by people without ‘culture and taste’, making it up as they go along, and over-producing a garbage to be later sifted through an evolutionary selection; what works will survive to become the next century’s classics, while the rest will be lost as it should be.

07w51:1 Myth of a cultural elite

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Myth of a cultural elite — education, social status determine what we attend, listen to and watch

There have been a number of theories put forward to explain how our tastes in cinema, theatre, music and the fine arts relate to our position in society. New research funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, has concluded that there is little evidence of a ‘cultural elite’ that aspires to ‘high culture’, while turning its back on popular culture.

The research, carried out at the University of Oxford, aimed to determine which theory fits most closely with reality. To ensure the findings applied internationally, survey data was studied from the UK and also from six other countries in Europe and elsewhere in the world. Findings confirmed that a cultural-elite, linked to social class, does not exist in society.

Researchers sought to refine the differences in the hierarchical arrangement, known as social stratification, of people in society. To achieve this, their work took into account the backgrounds of the people surveyed, including education, income and social class. Previous research in this field had used such factors interchangeably, but this project sought to draw a clear distinction between social class and social status.

Doctor Tak Wing Chan, who conducted the research with his colleague Doctor John Goldthorpe. commented: “Our work has shown that it’s education and social status, not social class that predict cultural consumption in the UK, and broadly comparable results were obtained from other countries in our project too.”

Using terms more familiar to those studying the animal kingdom and, in particular, the eating habits of animals, the researchers identified several different types of groups in society that ‘consume’ culture.

These included:

  • Univores: people who have an interest in popular culture only
  • Ominvores: people who consume the full variety of different types of culture
  • Paucivores: people who consume a limited range of cultural activities
  • Inactives: people who access nothing at all.

In the UK, it turned out that the consumption of culture is very clearly patterned:

  • For theatre, dance and cinema, two types of consumer were identified – univores (62.5% of the sample) and omnivores (37.5%).
  • For music, three types were identified – univores (65.7% of the sample), omnivore listeners only (24%) and omnivores (10.3%).
  • For the visual arts for example, art galleries, festivals, video art presentations, again three types were identified – inactives (58.6% of the sample), paucivores (34.4%) and omnivores (7%).

“There’s little evidence for the existence of a cultural elite who would consume ‘high’ culture while shunning more ‘popular’ cultural forms,” said Doctor Tak Wing Chan, “Furthermore, at least a substantial minority of members of the most advantaged social groups are univores or inactives.”

07w50:7 Excerpt of Carl Wilson's book on Celine Dion

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I’m so looking forward to reading Carl Wilson’s book on Celine Dion. It should be in stores soon, and for those in Toronto, the book launch in January 9th at the Gladstone.

I hate Celine! … Or do I? | Carl Wilson
Link (The Globe & Mail)
“Long disdainful of the diva, critic Carl Wilson travelled to Vegas to check out her show, which ends a four-year run tonight at Caesars Palace. As his new book explains, what came next surprised him”

More on Wilson’s blog here.

07w50:6 A culture saturated in sexism

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A culture saturated in sexism | Johanna Schneller
Link (The Globe & Mail)
“Women’s bodies have always been fodder for jokes, but the envelope keeps getting pushed,” said Jessica Valenti, whose book Full Frontal Feminism came out in March. Young moviegoers expect more and more outrageous humour, so the movies get more risqué. Offscreen, recent tabloids, TV shows and Internet sites raked Tyra Banks and Britney Spears over the coals for gaining weight. Endless unflattering photos of their non-washboard midriffs were displayed and discussed. The fact that Banks was at most a size 12, and that Spears has had two children, didn’t matter: These women didn’t maintain their veneer of perfection. They had failed. A few weeks ago, the nitpickers hit a new low: They targeted Jennifer Love Hewitt, zeroing in on bumps on her bikini-clad bottom and blaring, ‘We know what you ate last summer.’ Now, I try to have a sense of humour about this stuff. But Jennifer Love Hewitt is a freaking Polly Pocket, and obviously fit. Seeing her scorned – for I don’t even know what, having hips? – I can’t help but feel that the volume and ubiquity of this kind of criticism is tipping from humour into something uglier.”

// Comment: In building her argument, Schneller writes “In Knocked Up, which came out in June, hero Ben (Seth Rogen — [is] chubby, which I point out because it’s not an issue for the men)”. Being chubby may not be an issue for men, but I’d feel remiss if I didn’t point out the sexism men are subjected to in the media. Either McDreamy handsome or ‘chubby’, they are often depicted as morons who love tools, cars, and meat. I discussed this once with a self-indentifying feminist and she argued that these stereotypes embodied the ‘Everyman’ as if this justified it – an extremely weak argument (imagine it being made for depictions of women in the kitchen, or toward some oppressed minority. Stereotypes never represent the ‘every-stereotype’).

This was somewhat addressed in Goodreads 05w24:2, and especially in this article from, Beauty and the Beast arguing:

In addition to their girth, a signal characteristic of these men is immaturity. Most of them are unable to master the simplest daily tasks. A recent episode of Grounded for Life was propelled by Sean’s inability to take a phone message while a typical King of Queens knee-slapper was fueled by Doug’s inability to keep his hands off a co-worker’s Koosh ball, which he, of course, loses. And virtually every episode of According to Jim is sparked by Jim’s selfishness and impulsiveness—he fights with Santa and the next-door neighbor; he pouts about having to give up his vices so Cheryl can get pregnant.

Indeed, the promixity of these men to their childhood selves is often directly invoked. In a recent episode of King of Queens, for example, Doug’s dad visits for a model train convention, which dredges up bitter memories about how as a child, Doug was not allowed—I am not making this up—to play with his dad’s train. When Dad is called away from the convention and Doug offers to fill in for him, Dad is still reluctant to let his dumb-ass son work the controls. (And when he does, Doug promptly destroys the train set, along with its fake mountain landscape setting. See what happens when you play with Daddy’s train?) Perhaps, then, actors like Mark Addy and Kevin James are best suited for these roles not only because they portray a fantasy life for couch potato male viewers—for a half-hour a week, you can be 300 pounds and still imagine yourself married to Jamie Gertz!—but also because their proportions, with their ample torsos and short and apparently useless limbs, approximate those of babies. [emp mine]

It’s not that there aren’t handsome or sexually desirable men on sitcoms, but these men are typically marked as terminal bachelors, like Ted Danson on Cheers. To the extent they have anything to do with family life, they tend to skulk around its outer margins like coyotes. On Two and Half Men (CBS, Mondays, 9:30 p.m. ET), Charlie (Charlie Sheen) is handsome, successful, and wedded to promiscuous bachelorhood, but he gets to enjoy some nourishing familial scraps since his loser brother (Jon Cryer) and scampy nephew moved themselves into his pad. (In keeping with the Maxim ethos of these shows, the brother was abandoned by a woman who thinks she might be a lesbian. It would be emasculating for male viewers to see a man dumped for being completely undesirable, and, besides, lesbians are so hot.) Likewise, on Grounded for Life the schlumpy husband has a smoother bachelor brother, Eddie (Kevin Corrigan), who lurks around the house and functions as a Casanova alter ego. This really works in Grounded for Life, thanks to the slithery Corrigan, who is probably the best thing about any of these shows. (On According to Jim and Still Standing, the single sibling is an attractive but romantically hopeless sister of the wife. That’s the choice: fat guy vs. spinsterhood.)

Here perhaps, a reminder of where the word ‘stereotype’ comes from. Steven Pinker, in The Blank Slate (2002; p. 201) writes:

The word stereotype originally referred to a kind of printing plate. Its current sense as a pejorative and inaccurate image standing for a category of people was introduced in 1922 by the journalist Walter Lippmann. Lippmann was an important public intellectual who, amoung other things, helped to found The New Republic, influenced Woodrow Wilson’s policies at the end of World War I, and wrote some of the first attacks against IQ testing. In his book Public Opinion, [1922], Lippmann fretted about the difficulty of achieving true democracy in an age in which ordinary people could no longer judge public issues rationally because they got their information in what we today call sound bites. As part of this argument, Lippmann proposed that ordinary people’s concepts of social groups were stereotypes:mental pictures that are incomplete, biased, insensitive to variation, and resistant to disconfirming information.

Lippmann had an immediate influence on social science (though the subtleties and qualifications of his original argument were forgotten). Psychologists gave people lists of ethnic groups and lists of traits and asked them to pair them up.

(Pinker references two books in a footnote: Roger Brown’s Social Psychology, (1985) & the paper Stereotype accuracy: Toward appreciating group differences edited YT Lee, LJ Jussum, and CR McCauley, 1995)

The results proved either Lippmann’s thesis, or just highlighted traditional bigotry. It’s hard to say which, now that we live in a media soup – didn’t some people have ideas about spics and wops in the 19th Century, when those insults were common?

Walter Lippmann, btw, is the coiner of the term ‘manufacture of consent‘ which now days is associated with Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman’s critique of mass media. Pinker’s mention that Lippmann ‘influenced Woodrow Wilson’ sounds great out of context, but within the context reported by Chomsky, his influence was in the way he helped inspire American propaganda. Chomsky, wrote:

The first modern government propaganda operation [was] under the Woodrow Wilson Administration. Woodrow Wilson was elected President in 1916 on the platform “Peace Without Victory.” That was right in the middle of the First World War. The population was extremely pacifistic and saw no reason to become involved in a European war. The Wilson Administration was actually committed to war and had to do something about it. They established a government propaganda commission, called the Creel Commission, which succeeded, within six months, in turning a pacifist population into a hysterical, war-mongering population which wanted to destroy everything German, tear the Germans limb from limb, go to war and save the world. […]

Among those who participated actively and enthusiastically were the progressive intellectuals, people of the John Dewey circle, who took great pride, as you can see from their own writings at the time, in having shown that what they called the “more intelligent members of the community” –namely themselves– were able to drive a reluctant population into a war by terrifying them and eliciting jingoist fanaticism. […]

Another group that was impressed by these successes were liberal Democratic theorists and leading media figures, like, for example, Walter Lippmann, who was the dean of American journalists, a major foreign and domestic policy critic and also a major theorist of liberal democracy. If you take a look at his collected essays, you’ll see that they’re subtitled something like “A Progressive Theory of Liberal Democratic Thought.” Lippmann was involved in these propaganda commissions and recognized their achievements. He argued that what he called a “revolution in the art of democracy,” could be used to manufacture consent, that is, to bring about agreement on the part of the public for things that they didn’t want by the new techniques of propaganda. He also thought that this was a good idea, in fact necessary. It was necessary because, as he put it, “the common interests elude public opinion entirely” and can only be understood and managed by a specialized class of responsible men who are smart enough to figure things out.

This theory asserts that only a small elite, the intellectual community that the Deweyites were talking about, can understand the common interests, what all of us care about, and that these things “elude the general public.” This is a view that goes back hundreds of years. It’s also a typical Leninist view. In fact, it has very close resemblance to the Leninist conception that a vanguard of revolutionary intellectuals take state power, using popular revolutions as the force that brings them to state power, and then drive the stupid masses towards a future that they’re too dumb and incompetent to envision themselves.


Lippmann backed this up by a pretty elaborated theory of progressive democracy. He argued that in a properly-functioning democracy there are classes of citizens. There is first of all the class of citizens who have to take some active role in running general affairs. That’s the specialized class. They are the people who analyze, execute, make decisions, and run things in the political, economic, and ideological systems. That’s a small percentage of the population. Naturally, anyone who puts these ideas forth is always part of that small group, and they’re talking about what to do about those others.

Those others, who are out of the small group, the big majority of the population, they are what Lippmann called “the bewildered herd.” We have to protect ourselves from the trampling and rage of the bewildered herd. Now there are two functions in a democracy: The specialized class, the responsible men, carry out the executive function, which means they do the thinking and planning and understand the common interests. Then, there is the bewildered herd, and they have a function in democracy too. Their function in a democracy, he said, is to be spectators, not participants in action. But they have more of a function than that, because it’s a democracy. Occasionally they are allowed to lend their weight to one or another member of the specialized class. In other words, they’re allowed to say, “We want you to be our leader” or “We want you to be our leader.” That’s because it’s a democracy and not a totalitarian state. That’s called an election.

(source; not properly attributed; excerpts of the above found here and here, and sourced to the 2002 book, Media Control, and from the Alternative Press Review, Fall 1993).

Not having read Lippmann’s 1922 book, it seems then that his argument would run something like this: the ‘bewildered herd’ is subject to the distortions of the media, forming stereotypes on the basis of sound-bites, and hence a self-selecting group of elites have the right to shape public opinion through the active manipulation of those stereotypes. Even better, the self-selecting group of intelligentsia should actively seek to distract ‘the bewildered herd’ so that they are out of the way of the decision making process.

Which gets back to Johanna Schneller’s piece: the fucking tabloids and the like pissing us off by unfairly insulting celebrity women while the Earth burns and our governments are doing fuck all about it.

07w50:5 The Evolutionary Wild Fire

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It began on December 10th, with two articles:

Are humans evolving faster?

Genome study places modern humans in the evolutionary fast lane

and then was picked up by Scientific American, the Houston Chronicle, ABC News, the Huffington PostM, Arts, and Reuters. The next day on December 11th, Bruce Sterling posts on this in his blog, liking to the coverage in the LA Times.

The New York Times of course has it, and Drudgereport links to the Yahoo version. Slashdot links to the Reuters story. The BBC picks it up as well.

Drudge Retort links to the story in the Houston Chronicle. 2Blowhards links to the original research paper (PDF), with supporting links to the LA Times story, the PR, (via Steve Sailer), John Hawks’ blog, and Scientific American. Andrew Sullivan gets in the game. William Saletan blogs it in his Slate column.

Wednesday Dec 12th brings one link to the acceleration story, by mcmath61 at However, on December 12th the New York Times reports on another evolutionary story, as to the adaptation of a women’s spine to bipedal pregnancy. This news release at Eureka Alert suggests the loss of fur (and hence the loss of the ape’s tendency to have babies clinging to the fur) encouraged the development of that bipedality. CNN picks up the pregnancy story,

The Eureka Alert press release on the adaptive spine goes out on the following day, December 13th, and the New York Times reprints a slightly altered version of their previous day’s take. The Boston Globe writes up the pregnancy story, and the Globe & Mail reproduces it.

Jason Kottke gets on the Accelerated Evolution bandwagon on this day, linking to the New York Times article, as does Slashdot. The Economist does its write-up.

Finally, on December 14th, William Saletan picks up the theme and writes about it in a piece called The Evolution of Evolution.