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Build your own!

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 08.14.04

Via CT, the NYT gives you a fun game of Florida Recount. Set your preferences, elect a president, sob quietly.


 

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Stonehenge!

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 08.14.04

Belle links to this amazing find. Make sure to read the captions. It's like a year's worth of "here's a great picture of Ogged" jokes.


 

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Imprecision

Posted by Bob
on 08.13.04

An NYT correction, three weeks after the original piece:

An article on July 21 about President Bush's campaign plans for the rest of the summer referred imprecisely to the trend in American military casualties in Iraq after the transfer of sovereignty there on June 28. From the transfer date to the date on which the article was written, casualties increased compared with the same length of time before the transfer; they did not show "some reduction."

"Some reduction," instead of an increase?? If a sign-change counts as imprecision, then imprecision has no meaning.

(Via Atrios.)


 

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Object language/metalanguage

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 08.12.04

This thought is inspired by a comment of baa's.

Recently I've been annoyed by the political effects of an underinformed, undercritical electorate, and it occurs to me that this problem leads to a kind of irritating but also fascinating strategic maneuver that Team Bush is learning to use quite deftly. The problem is that the actual and stated reason for a political position are often quite distinct: the reasons you can invoke on the stump are one thing; the strategic considerations actually swaying your decision are something else entirely. That you can't appeal to the strategic reasons in public discussion--even though they're obviously relevant-- is something I chalk up to the political naivete of the Likely Voters. (Or, better: the fact that there's a need for unspeakable strategic reasoning seems to indicate a different sort of failure on the part of the electorate.)

Once we've established some kind of line between the two sorts of considerations, it's possible to use the division to one's advantage. The recipe is simple: force your opponent to do something that makes sense strategically--in the metalanguage, as it were-- but can't be justified in the object language, the space of politically acceptable considerations. Then call for an explanation of the move, forcing your opponent to use the latter vocabulary. This can't be done, so mission accomplished. Humilation ensues.

Example: Kerry votes to authorize the use of force[1] at least in part because he has to innoculate himself against charges that he's soft on terrorism. He votes against the funding package at least in part because of Howard Dean. But he has to justify those acts in other terms. He struggles, for obvious reasons. Or: Kerry dredges the Meking Delta not because he thinks this is what qualifies him for the presidency, but because he has to play machismo chicken with Bush or lose the election-- see the point about a lousy electorate. Then he has to face Reynolds et al. complaining that he hasn't made a case on his actual (i.e., present-day) merits. (Another example might be Clinton's involvement in the execution of Ricky Ray Rector.)

I leave the prediction of future cases as an exercise for the reader.

A puzzle: this sort of thing seems to work much better for Bush than for Kerry, though I don't think this is because Bush calls 'em like he sees 'em. True? And if so, why?

[1] Confession: I slipped by typing 'for the war' initially. Ouch.


 

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Fafnir sings! Fafnir dances! Fafnir explodes!

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 08.12.04

Caught in the act. Farber: weirder by the hour.


 

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For the Glory of the Fatherland

Posted by Ogged
on 08.12.04

All this hoohaw about doping and terrorism has probably distracted you from the real story of the Olympics: World's Greatest Meat Market.

I remember being a teenager away from home on the friggin' debate team, where the bodies weren't quite as lithe and rockin' as those in the Olympic village, and we were still climbing all over each other. And no one was trying to help us out, either.

In Athens, there will be ...
Countries: 199
Officials: 3,000
Athletes: 10,500
Condoms, courtesy of Durex: 130,000
Tubes of lubricant: 30,000

Slide me over a Lithuanian, wouldya Lars?

Fun facts (rigorous methodology, I'm sure)

Swimmers do it longer; the French do it most often (but only with compatriots).
In Sydney, the Cubans ... well, they ran through their ration faster than any other nation.
"I don't know what they're doing with those things," said one official. "Maybe they're making water balloons. They're lovely, lovely people. They're very friendly."

Is there a Cohiba joke in the house?

Of course, most of the athletes in the Olympics don't have any hopes of winning a medal. For those that do, sex is...problematic. Summing up the dilemma, Marty Liquori:

Sex makes you happy, and happy people don't run a 3:47 mile.

Actually, happy people don't run, but that's an argument for another day.

Sprinter Linford Chrisie refuses, apparently, to have sex during the three days prior to a race. That's just fine, since he probably can't get anyone to sleep with him anway.

Ok, so that's Fontana, but Linford Christie looks a lot like that too.

Blogging crew,
O you who pant the stairs in Dockers,
Consider Olympian, who always gets more tail than you.

MORE: Gary had this a while back, including a link to what seems to be the source article, full of juicy tidbits.


 

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Nuance

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 08.12.04

My emerging fetish seems to be the electorate's ADD, so I was predictably infuriated by this article in the NYT.

Mr. Kerry's problems began last week when President Bush challenged him for a yes-or-no answer on a critical campaign issue: If Mr. Kerry knew more than a year ago what he knows today about the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, would he still have voted to authorize the use of military force to oust Saddam Hussein?

Counterfactuals are tricky. I think the right answer is:

"If I had known that there were no WMD, and if I had known that the President would fail to act judiciously in the runup to war, and if I had known that the President would then handle things in a totally incompetent way, then, no, I wouldn't have voted for the war. I made the mistake of thinking that the President isn't a complete fool."

But the decision, in the end, was Mr. Kerry's. He chose to take the bait on Monday at the edge of the Grand Canyon. Asked by a reporter, he said he would have voted for the resolution - even in the absence of evidence of weapons of mass destruction - before adding his usual explanation that he would have subsequently handled everything leading up to the war differently.

An aside to my loyal readers in Kerry's inner circle: would it have been such a political headache to answer a slightly different question? E.g., "If I had known there are no WMD, and no serious and successful weapons program, and no serious links to al Qaeda, and no Saddam-9/11 tie-- in other words, if I had known that every reason the Administration gave us turned out to be lousy-- then, no, I'd refuse to authorize the war." I mean, surely a very large part of the electorate would agree with that, given that the war had lukewarm support even with those reasons on the table. Isn't that what a lot of us have been feeling for a year?

Mr. Bush, sensing he had ensnared Mr. Kerry, stuck in the knife on Tuesday, telling a rally in Panama City, Fla., that "he now agrees it was the right decision to go into Iraq." The Kerry camp says that interpretation of Mr. Kerry's words completely distorted the difference between a vote to authorize war and a decision to commit troops to the battlefield.

The vote to give the President the authority to use force is not at all the same as an endorsement of the President's choice to use force. "You gave him his allowance-- so you must approve of the way he spent it." (For example, Kerry might have thought that the careful use of the credible threat of force has great value, apart from the actual application of that force. Had we a more competent commander, this would have been a good thought.)

Again, my irritation isn't so much with the administration as with those who fall for this stuff. This isn't the goddamned transcendental deduction, people. It would strain credulity to think that the best policies are also those best sold in 30-second nuggets. Get smarter or perish.


 

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Juan Valdez beware

Posted by Bob
on 08.12.04

Brazilian government researchers have sequenced the coffee genome. Brazilian coffee isn't well regarded by the Starbucks crowd, but a massive coffee-genetics program might enable Brazil to produce cheaper, more expensive-tasting coffee.

My prediction: tobaccoffee.

(Via Slashdot.)


 

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Faith is as good as argument

Posted by Bob
on 08.12.04

Univ. of Washington communications professor David Domke has unearthed an unsurprising pattern in how the commercial news media deal with Bush's religious arguments for the war:

In all but one of Bush's 15 national addresses between 9/11 and the end of major combat in Iraq, for example, he cast the campaign against terrorism as a simple struggle of good (America) vs. evil, according to Domke's book. And in four of the speeches, Bush issued explicit declarations that administration policies and goals were in line with divine powers.

Yet only two of the 326 post-speech editorials in 20 leading newspapers challenged the religiously derived notion of good vs. evil, and none questioned the president's statements about God's will.

Domke also looked at hundreds of other Bush statements and documents -- and their coverage in the press.

The coverage, Domke found, gave uncritical voice to four key fundamentalist messages from the administration:

1) Simplistic, black-and-white conceptions of the political landscape.

2) Calls for immediate action on administration policies as a necessary part of the nation's ''calling'' and ''mission'' against terrorism.

3) Declarations about the will of God for America and for the spread of U.S. conceptions of freedom and liberty.

4) Claims that dissent from the administration was unpatriotic and a threat to the nation.

I think that what happens is that the average cynical political reporter or analyst sees Bush's religious language as just language. Or as just the sort of inspirational stuff leaders are supposed to say when tending to the emotional needs of the nation: we-feel-your-pain sort of stuff. The problem is that for Bush, religion is more than just an emotional comfort. For many Americans, invoking religion is as good as solid argument. Joe Agnostic on the editorial board may discount Bush's religiosity as mere name-dropping, but for the millions who are faithful and receptive, when Bush stakes a claim to divine justice, he's as good as closed the case for war -- and against dissent.

And let's not forget that for Bush it's not just rhetoric -- he really believes that he's been Called to lead a war against evil, and maybe against Islam. Joe Agnostic has got to realize that for the White House and much of America, religious talk is real, powerful, and not as dangerously simplistic as is obvious to him.

(Via Science Blog.)


 

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Just saying

Posted by Bob
on 08.11.04

Columbia historian Robert O. Paxton's definition of fascism in The Anatomy of Fascism:

A form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.

(Link to NYTBR piece by Samantha Power.)


 

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Blurb

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 08.11.04

I'm reading Peter Railton's Facts, Values, and Norms. A bit depressing, actually: I'm never going to write anything half as good. What a show-off.


 

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Tick tock

Posted by Bob
on 08.11.04

Harvard nuclear-terrorism expert Graham Allison thinks it's just likelier than even that terrorists will explode a nuclear bomb in the next ten years. Former Sec'ty of Defense William "The Refrigerator" Perry thinks it's even odds in the next six years. Nicholas Kristof:

...what I find baffling: an utter failure of the political process. The Bush administration responded aggressively on military fronts after 9/11, and in November 2003, Mr. Bush observed, "The greatest threat of our age is nuclear, chemical or biological weapons in the hands of terrorists, and the dictators who aid them." But the White House has insisted on tackling the most peripheral elements of the W.M.D. threat, like Iraq, while largely ignoring the central threat, nuclear proliferation. The upshot is that the risk that a nuclear explosion will devastate an American city is greater now than it was during the cold war, and it's growing.

More: Remember the Doomsday Clock on the cover of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists? Since Feb. 2002 it's stood at seven minutes to midnight, accounting for failures to uphold the ABM Treaty and nonproliferation efforts. Also the India-Pakistan race, the North Korean nuclear program and non-state terrorism. Seems to me that with the accelerated recruiting and fundraising campaign going on at Al Qaeda, the clock's due for a forward tick soon.


 

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Now the pupil has become the master

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 08.10.04

Via Metafilter, an interview with Richard Pryor:

You talk about Muhammad Ali in your latest DVD and how frightening it was to be in the ring with him. But do you reckon you could beat him now that the two of you shake like maracas?
RP: That's your fuckin' question?

 

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George Eliot guest hosts a very special "For Love or Money"

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 08.10.04

The most recent installment of For Love or Money wrapped up last night, with both Caleb and Rachel choosing the former over the latter. Shocking.

Does anyone know what kinds of contractual obligations enforce those choices? The obvious thought is to have it both ways: choose the money, then contact the partner once you're a civilian again. There's clearly something waiting in the wings to prevent that-- can the money be rescinded if, say, the winner ends up making out with the forbidden contestant?

Update: is Causabon the most liberal senator? Googlebombers want to know.


 

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Okay okay, John. I love you, too.

Posted by Bob
on 08.10.04



(Photo from NYT.)


 

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Labs Cracks

Posted by Ogged
on 08.09.04

No picture, but everything else you might want to know about Fontana Labs, now linked in the sidebar.

You can drop him a line at fontanalabs [ a t ] unfogged.com.


 

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Fafnir exposed!

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 08.09.04

Farber has more. Sadly, the hard-hitting investigative journalism has taken its toll. You know what to do.


 

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Welcome to Chicago

Posted by Unf
on 08.09.04

The Chicago Tribune (or ChiTri, if you must) is apparently a bottomless fount of stories which put Chicago in a bad light. Or a foul odor, as it were.


 

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Set your Tivo

Posted by Bob
on 08.09.04

Maureen Dowd is on tomorrow night's The Daily Show She's so pretty.


 

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Even David Jones did more

Posted by Bob
on 08.09.04

The Washington Post (Fontana dislikes "WaPo," and I respect that) dug up some potentially devastating Bush dirt that somehow was missed by NyTi, LaTi, WaStreJo, BoGlo, ChiTri, PhiInqui, InHeTri, and UsaTo: while Kerry played bass in his high-school rock band, Bush just played his own hands in his.

Bush almost instinctively managed to always be in the center of the action, an ubiquitous, noisy presence at school events. He was the head football cheerleader his senior year, a member of his class rock-and-roll band, the Torqueys not singing or playing an instrument but clapping and organizer of the school's stickball league.

Actually, it sounds to me like he was more of a dancer. Clearly Bobby to GHWB's Hank Hill.

(Via a comment at Eschaton.)


 

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Intelligence

Posted by Bob
on 08.09.04

BoGlo:

Republicans contend they foiled a plot by America Coming Together, a 527 organization that supports the Democratic Party, to disrupt the New Mexico rally.

...[RNC spokesman Yier Shi said] that the decision was made to use the [loyalty-oath] forms at the New Mexico rally after the local RNC office received ''suspicious calls" about the event before it was advertised. He said the caller identification indicated some numbers were from cellphones of members of America Coming Together.

So, the RNC has a list of ACT members' phone numbers? Maybe it's sensible, given how ACT remorselessly uses on its own people not only razor-sharp satire, but John Mellencamp.


 

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SJ

Posted by Bob
on 08.09.04

Turns out reporters recognize a total snow job when they hear one: they actually laughed at Bush when he answered an interesting question with inanity. (Kerry, in some other context, got it right.)

If reporters are smart enough to be critical among themselves, why is it that when it comes to work they respond to Bush's snow jobs by giving the administration blo-- argh, I'm too prudish respectful of the Presidency to complete the joke!


 

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Gotta run!

Posted by Bob
on 08.09.04

Ogged sent in this Salon piece (view the commercial -- it's painless) about Cingular's Escape-A-Date and Virgin Mobile's new Rescue Ring services.

When the cell rings, one of Cingular's eight "emergency" messages says: "Hey, this is your Escape-A-Date call. If you're looking for an excuse, I got it. Just repeat after me, and you'll be on your way! 'Not again! Why does that always happen to you? ... All right, I'll be right there.' Now tell 'em that your roommate got locked out, and you have to go let them in. Good luck!"

And bingo, the bad date is history.

The Salon piece claims that this and the services' other Moriarty-caliber fabulations are cooked up by a team of five PhD linguists.

NyTi's editorial board takes a dim view:

You could argue that the real purpose of Escape-A-Date is to prevent hurt feelings so you don't have to explain to your date what a loser he or she is. Or you could argue that it is simply another step forward in the institutionalization of lying, for those who lack the mental wherewithal to lie for themselves.


 

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The spiritual heir of Morton Downey Jr

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 08.08.04

When I was growing up in NY, I was half-fascinated with Morton Downey jr's talk show. It was sort of a prototype of some of the things on now-- Mort would bring on a series of straw guests, shake his fist at them, call them "pablum-puking liberals." Great stuff. (The internet tells me that his show was the scene of a fistfight between Al Sharpton and Roy Innis, but I must've missed that episode.)

But the fun stopped when Mort claimed to have been beaten up by skinheads, who allegedly cut his hair and painted a swastika on his forehead. Or, more accurately...a mirror image of a swastika, as if, just maybe, he'd done it himself. From that there could be no recovery, and the show went off the air almost immediately.

I'm reminded of all of this by Bill O'Reilly and his encounter with Krugman. It seems O'Reilly has hit just about the same rock bottom:

O'REILLY: You are about the most un-objective person on the face of the earth -- Media Matters! Why don't you just call Fidel? Call him up in Havana. He'll tell you what's going on?

I've left out the part where he compared MMFA to the Klan. A must-read. But I can't imagine this can go on much longer: at this point O'Reilly has stopped even pretending to have any credibility. Maybe soon he'll claim that Michael Moore sat on him, and we'll be done.


 

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NYT

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 08.08.04

Dahlia Lithwick (one of our favorite crushes) shows that Maureen Dowd's space is not vapid of necessity. The yawning gap between guests and hosts widens. Good lefty that I am, I blame structural problems, not Thomas Friedman's awful 'stache.


 

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