Friday, February 25, 2005

Show me the money

At LifeSteward, we are directed to a story about the U of FL demand for Judge Greer's recusal.

My question:

Underlying these calls for Greer's impeachment/recusal is the notion that he hasn't applied the law correctly, and that his personal feelings have gotten in the way of good decisions. For that to be half-way plausible, though, there'd have to be a showing of how he's misapplied or ignored law.

While there have been vague mentions of FL statutes and general legal principles, no one has done the hard work of trawling through FL case law to discuss how, specifically, Greer has dropped the ball. Absent that, the Terry-bloggers' efforts look like nothing so much as sour grapes: ya don't like the law, so blame the judge.

With that in mind, are there any in-depth critiques of Greer's decisions? Alternately, is there somewhere I can go to read his decisions (I've already checked out the appellate decisions, which are of limited use)?

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Paging Diogenes

Unfogged reads my mind:
On the one hand, god bless Kos and Atrios for the work they are doing--they're among the few who are pushing back. On the other hand, it doesn't feel like my game anymore. I realize that what I want to do, what I like to think of myself as engaged in, is explaining, or changing minds, or laying out reasons. Bare political advocacy requires a certain faith in one's own rightness; a tight enough grasp on the end to think it justifies the means--and maybe I just don't have that. If I throw too much spin on something, I begin to doubt myself, and doubt my cause. That makes me suited for some things, but a crappy political advocate.
Damn, do I understand this post. On the one hand, it can be enormously frustrating to find that even those with whom one sympathizes politically are mere advocates, and forego well-formed arguments in favor of demagoguery. On the other hand, it provides a lot more grist for the mill when all sides push weak arguments. Either way, though, it can be profoundly dispiriting to see such....well, lack of doubt in one's own rightness (which is probably why I've been sticking to immanent-discourse blogs lately [read: continental theory blogs and religion blogs]).

NY Times & tax shelters

Here's Allan Sloan in today's WaPo:

The New York Times editorial page is unsparing when it comes to flogging tax-dodging corporations. Corporate tax avoidance, it intoned in a typical piece last April, is "both a straightforward fiscal problem" and "a broader threat to our civic culture." Indeed. Last week, the New York Times Co. didn't exactly practice what the New York Times editorial page preaches.
Cool......Who knew that the New York Times actually owned its own country somewhere? I wonder if it has its own navy, like the Scientologists, or if they're just content with lax corporate tax policies and practices. Cuz that's what the passage above implies. The NY Times preaches against government provision of "corporate welfare"; if they don't practice what they preach, then it's clear they must be a government that doles out "corporate welfare" (scare quotes indicating that your humble author doesn't necessarily share the negative characterization of corporate tax incentives).

Of course, the Times isn't a government, and the only way it could be seen as hypocritical is if it had been criticizing other companies for taking advantage of loopholes and/or the government's lax enforcement. This point is recognized by The Captain o'er at Captain's Quarters:

That's the problem with newspapers and businessmen in general who rail against tax cuts and investment protections in the tax code. Most of them operate or contribute to corporations that exploit these legal structures without hesitation -- as they should, if legal -- to benefit themselves and their shareholders. And yet they castigate others who do so, accusing them of threatening our "civic culture" and other hyperbolic rants about the evils of corporations. It's hypocrisy at its most base and ludicrous level. (emphasis mine)

Let's turn to the editorial in which the Times talks about corporate practices threatening the civic culture. If that editorial is calling for greater ethical responsibility on the part of corporations to forego tax shelters, then the Captain is absolutely right that the Times is being ludicrously hypocritical.

From the 4/13/04 Times:

Despite one of the highest ostensible corporate tax rates in the industrialized world, American companies are in fact among the least taxed. This oddity undermines the integrity of the system and makes a mockery of those who actually pay their fair share. It would be far healthier to reduce the corporate tax rates modestly while simplifying the system to ensure compliance as John Kerry is proposing.

Far from casting the issue as an ethical duty that accrues to corporations, the Times is looking at it as a systemic and political problem. The paper isn't shaking its fist righteously at corporations that are making use of perfectly legal measures to reduce their tax burden - which, as The Captain correctly observes, they should do - but rather claiming that the tax system itself is broken and shouldn't allow corporations to do some of the things they're currently allowed to do.

As the Times points out earlier in the editorial, the problem with making a "mockery of those who actually pay their fair share" isn't an ethical one, either; it's a political one. A system that allows for wild fluctuations between taxonomically equal entities undermines civic culture and leads to social unrest, as has happened in Latin America. Again, the point is political and pointedly not ethical.

[Quick and hopefully-not-too-fawning update: I'm consistently impressed with the calibre of comments on most blogs, the occasional blogswarm notwithstanding. The CQ comments are no exception. This is why I don't understand some bloggers' decision to disable commenting; often enough, the comments are really keen and include angles and ideas that add greatly to the overall value of the blog]

Monday, February 21, 2005


At Red Oasis in a Blue State, Red writes about the recent (and inevitable, as I've noted many times) decision to throw out the charges against the neo-Mennonite (check out beardo in the back) Philly 5:

Perhaps this was not her intention, but on the surface it appears that, to Dembe, Christian groups are equivalent to the KKK and the Nazis. Christians are now the same as a murdering band of thugs hell-bent on turning back the clock of racial equality? They are now no different than a regime that systematically slaughtered 6 million people in less than a decade?

So, the question is: how are the Philly 5 like Nazis? It's all speech that lots of other people don't like and find highly offensive, but whose rights should be protected nonetheless.

As an empirical statement, that should be uncontroversial. Plenty of people find the beliefs of the Philly 5 and their ilk highly offensive. If we construe it subjunctively, it's also uncontroversial: "even if you think antigay speech is offensive, we protect the speech of those that are most offensive (nazis and KKK)." This is the counter-example strategy, and we see it all the time. Reciting the free speech rights of various awful groups has become a rhetorical trope: "yeah, I don't like what you're saying, but we protect the rights of even the worst groups [followed by the rights of KKK and nazis]" (examples: here, here, and here) This is standard issue, and it's also an intuitively sensical way to construct a counterexample. If X is worse than Y, yet we protect the rights of X, then it's logical that we protect the rights of Y.

A third possibility is that she was using an analogy. In itself, though, that's really not a big deal. As I've pointed out before, an analogy compares one aspect of two different things. An analogy doesn't conflate two things; far from it, the efficacy of a metaphor relies on the difference between them.

An example: say I'm talking with a friend about something, I think she's relying on puffery to make her point, and I then assert that she's acting like Goebbels. Am I actually asserting that she's "the same as a murdering band of thugs hell-bent on turning back the clock of racial equality?" No, of course not. I'm picking out a trait common to both (namely, their propagandizing). In the Philly 5, it's a pretty reasonable guess that the views of the 5 were unpopular (in fact, many of their defenders have said just that). Inasmuch as the views of the KKK and anti-gays are politically unpopular, then, they are similar. Further, given the aforementioned legal trope about the KKK, it's a far-from-shocking metaphor.

The question of bias

Reacting to a speech by NY Times editor Bill Keller, in which he opines that blogs are inherently biased, Commonwealth Conservative writes:

The problem with blogs is their inherent bias? Is that meant to be ironic? I’d say the problem with the NY Times is its inherent bias.

The MSM is clueless, and growing moreso by the day.

Keller's statement evinces the ideology of the '50s emphasis on Consensus: we had a select number of institutions that were a shared referent, creating a coherent intranational identity of sorts (whether or not the historical experience tracked the ideology of Consensus is another question altogether). Keller, of course, is a byproduct of the Consensus, one of whose last vestiges resides in the MSM; they really think they're an unbiased fount of information around which Americans of all stripes can gather.

The lingering question is whether the MSM is, in fact biased. It's certain that they have some kind of bias. As Marxists and postmoderns were noting decades ago, a necessary component of doing the news is selecting the news. In a sense, then, they generate the category 'news.' That much seems self-evident, and is one of the growing number of issues on which conservatives and marxists are in agreement. A second question is whether the MSM pervasively reflects a liberal slant.

I'm gonna bracket that question for the moment, in favor of glip comparison. One interesting feature of the current MSM criticism by conservatives (and marxists, of course) is how critiques of MSM deploy the language of conspiracy theorists: bias is always 'latent' and 'insidious'. In other words, prima facie there's no detectable bias, but once you scratch the surface the web of bias becomes apparent. Hence the hub-bub over Eason Jordan: the key that unlocked the conspiracy had been found. It's all very paranoic; watching it is not unlike watching an Oliver Stone movie.

I googled "MSM" & "bias". Here are some snippets of the The Jawa Report, the first page I found that was more than a 4-line "gotcha!":

"Ultimately, as we might already suspect, the media creates 'news'....And unfortunately the massive private sector human intelligence operation we call journalism has turned into a mouthpiece for an ideology"

From a JFK conspiracy site: "Stone's crime was not that his movie presents a myth, but that he had the audacity and power to challenge the myths of his critics. It is, in the critics' view, the job of the news media to determine the country's paradigm, to define our perceptions, to give broad interpretations to major events, to create the myths which guide our thought and action."

The Jawa Report comments section: "You're right, the left-wing bias of the press has had a serious impact upon society and people don't even realize it."

JFK: "Who did the president, who killed Kennedy, fuck man! It's a mystery! It's a mystery wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma! The fuckin' shooters don't even know!"

The moral: watch out. You're caught in the web, and you don't even know it.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Wedding Planning

Yep, it's that special time in a man's life when he has to fight the good fight and insist that there be no children whatsoever in his wedding. Who's that one lunatic that my hero S.Z. at World O' Crap is always mocking? I think it's Doug Giles. Anyways, the man is right about one thing: there's too much fucking cutesy-poo shit these days, and churches are ground-zero for it.

Y'know, contemporary evangelical christianity fetishizes children, and it gives me the heeby-jeebies. The last time I went to my parents' church, they had this nauseating segment where they brought a bunch of kids up to the front, and the Sunday school teacher did a little Q&A with the kids. Like, she'd ask them banal crap like "Who's our saviour? And how much does he love us?" It was absolutely grotesque, and all the more so because all of these infantilized adults around me were getting all sentimental, and probably thinking things like "That' I should love the lord!"


Well, I've been thinking about writing a post for the Christian Carnival, but I don't think this one will pass muster.

Thursday, February 17, 2005


Brandon over at Bad Christian laid out his musical autobiography, and asked for the same from others (check out Streak's, too). Since my comment was starting to overspill the bounds of acceptable length, bloggin' it is better.

While Brandon ended up at folk, I started at folk. When I got kinda good on guitar, though, it really, really bothered me that folk is so musically limited. There are only a handful of chord progressions, after all, yet folk embraces this Romantic ideology of the author-as-genius. I couldn't handle the cognitive dissonance, so I started listening to music that fractures sound. I've found that there are three main ways to fracture a given chord progression:

Texturally: My Bloody Valentine is a good example. They overload a song with so many sounds and layers that you end up not listening to the chord changes - I guess you could say it collapses a linear, or horizontal, chord progression into one massive synchronic, or vertical, scale.

Tempo - Slow a chord progression down until it's entirely unrecognizable as a progression at all. It's almost the inverse of the MBV method. Rather than overload a progression, ya stretch it out. Best example: Labradford (if you check out the music page, check out "Pico" from 1996's Labradford). See also: Stars of the Lid.

Arpeggiation: Instead of strumming a progression, you break each chord into component notes. This is best done by utilizing notes that don't fit into the given chord. That way, the tonal center of the chord is displaced and makes the chord less recognizable as itself. Exemplar: Six Parts Seven. Interestingly, I've also found that there are a good many Christians playing in this style (Unwed Sailor, for example).

Now to copy quotes from Brandon and Streak that are ripe for good-spirited mocking and to give assorted shout-outs.

Streak: "I was an Amy Grant fan and saw her in concert a few times. I still like her voice, and we listen to her Christmas album every year." Really, this mocks itself. No commentary necessary.

"I listened to a lot of stuff that makes me wince now. Def Leppard (though the first album was decent) Rush and a few others." Def Leppard ruled. I don't know if anyone remembers, but inside the Hysteria cassette was a mail-away offer for their "official biography". Yeah, I bought it. And it was awesome. I still read it once a year. Actually, I just think it'd be funny if I did.

Brandon: "I was totally jazzed when I heard Jesus Freak from DC Talk on the local radio station...." That song came out when I was going through my terrible-music-is-hilarious phase. I'd drive around, blaring that song paired with assorted tracks from Mary Kate & Ashley's Sleepover Party and Vanilla Ice's totally underrated "gangsta comeback album" Mind Blowin'.

General shoutout: I still like the folk. Good stuff. Also, that was the best post topic ever.

Monday, February 14, 2005

The Village: 90 minutes of suck

Lame, lame lame. Until I figured out the silly ending, I figured the bad acting and ridiculous dialogue mighta been worth it. A cool payoff can make stuff like that worth it, but there was no payoff. Unless you're 15 and high, this movie blows.

Text and meaning

At GetReligion, tmatt discusses the question of meaning in the text:

...[T]he next step is to figure out what the creator of the signal was actually trying to say. I call this "finding the secular subject." Once you have found this big-button topic, you can move on to applying the teachings of your faith to that same subject.

The problem, of course, is that it is often hard to find out precisely what some of the artists of popular culture are trying to say. Often, it seems that they do not know. I mean, "knowing" is such an old-fashioned concept, you know?...In the end, it is often hard to find interviews with the artists in which they clearly express what they are thinking.

First, applause for taking a look at the semantics of pop culture. That said, why reinvent the wheel? There's tons of literature on this subject (the most famous of which is probably Barthes's Mythologies). At any rate, there's a conceptual asymmetry between the project and its method in the above. If we're looking at a text to find the meaning imparted to its audience, the question of 'intended meaning' is peripheral at best; the vast majority of the audience isn't going to read some obsucure interview and then watch/read the piece in light of the author's intent. Stronger, we could ask if the intentions elicited in an interview actually change the meaning located in the text; it would be a strange kind of meaning that, while located in the film, is altered by words uttered in another context altogether.

At the same time, these pieces are all intertextual to some extent, and refer back to other texts in the same and other genres. So a method adequate to its object will read these texts together to find a common ideology immanent in all of them. The vast body of texts will have particular meanings which will in turn inform the audience's reading of the new text.

That method, then, impliedly answers this concern:
I was amazed at the degree to which some of the writers and artists were...not anxious to address the central question: What were you trying to say?
If the meaning is immanent in the text, we need look no further than the text. To the question "what were you trying to say," the answer is simply "the text." As tmatt acknowledges, the bare text certainly seems to underdetermine the meaning therein: "Also, some artists are not interested in telling potential ticket buyers what the signal is all about." So where is the meaning? It derives from the triangular structure text-audience-ideology; the third term, ideology, mediates the relationship between the audience and the text, and informs the audience's reading. For example, if I'm watching a movie on Lifetime, there are certain signs I look for to tell me what kind of movie I'm watching. Some of these are internal to the text (particular archetypal characters, for examples), while some are extra-textual (the Lifetime logo in the corner of the screen). This assembly of intra- and extra-textual signifiers informs my reading and creates meanings in conjunction with the actual movie I'm watching.

I've often noted that there is a striking similarity between post-modernism and recent Christianity, and this is an occasion on which the latter could probably benefit from the theoretical groundwork established by the latter.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Hume, FDR, blahblahblah

The background: Brit Hume made very unethical use of ellipses to make it sound like FDR's plan was just like Bush's. The best thing I've read yet comes from LizardBreath on the comment section on Jane Galt's site:

The quote, as Hume reported it, states that FDR planned to phase out government-funded Social Security. This is not just false, it's surprising. I might say, very very surprising. We've been talking about Social Security for years in this country, and I've never before heard anyone cite FDR to say that it was originally intended to be a temporary program.

If you misquote Reagan to say "Socialism is a better, more humane way to run a society than capitalism", "Whoops, I misunderstood" is not a believable excuse, because Reagan's position on socialism is well known. Likewise here: finding a quote that on a careless misreading seems to say that FDR supported something that is the reverse of what you have always known him to have supported does not excuse a selective quotation to support the misreading. It is simply unbelievable that Hume saw a quote as surprising as the truncated version and didn't do the double-take and check to see what FDR had really said.

He lied.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

A genererous C-...

...would be low for this essay by Arthur, as it turns out. [note: this has been edited; what I initially wrote reflected a wild misreading of Arthur's post. Apologies around]. A snippet:

The critics are right: poverty throughout the developing world is merely a symptom. If we truly want to help people throughout the Third World (does anyone still use this term?) we should tackle the causes of poverty: unrepresentative, unresponsive, corrupt and nepotistic political culture, and economic systems that are holdovers from the golden age of socialist delusion.
He's right that there are systemic problems in the economies of these questions, but does that really bear on the separate question of whether these countries should be relieved of their debt? It seems like that may be an open question. Clearly, when a country labors under so much debt that the interest rates are a drag on its economy such that it can't recover, debt relief is a good idea (ethically and economically). What we'd need to see is an economic analysis of these unspecified Third World countries regarding their structural debt (IMF obligations and whatnot) versus the debt that accrues due to their inefficiences. (HT: A Constrained Vision)

Friday, February 04, 2005

Ideological and rhetorical gauntlets

At The Moderate Voice, Joe Gandelman writes:

In other words, if Dean gets the DNC chairmanship, he plans to throw down
the ideological gauntlet.
But Democrats better hope that if he does that during these times when their party has faced power-reducing defections from the center, he doesn't further throw down their party as well.

As against this, Dean is actually relatively moderate. He's a known budget hawk and a muscular multilateralist, for example. While an ideological gauntlet may be thrown down, it's really not an extreme one that will alienate too many people. It's entirely possible that he was selected to throw down a rhetorical and institutional gauntlet, much as the Harry Reid seems to be doing by emphasizing the differences between parties and building political discipline. Following Esmay, Dean is the ideal militant moderate. Ultimately, I don't think these are bad things at all: the Dems have done plenty of soul-searching, and the time has come to pick a path. In keeping with that, my hunch is that Dean was selected as something of a reassuring father-figure, someone that knows exactly what needs to be known. In marketing terms, I suppose one could say that he's a well-defined brand, and can help the Democrats rebrand themselves and become a known quantity.

One of the problems faced by Kerry was that people didn't seem to know what he stood for, and that (stupid) perception has attached to Democrats as a whole; Dean will probably go a ways toward rectifying that image problem.