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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Saturday, 30 April 2005

Topic: God and US

Intelligent Design: "Fossil Rabbits in the Precambrian"

As noted in these pages - November 28, 2004: The Triumph of Idealism - and around the November 24 anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin's 'Origin of the Species' (1859) -
In an October 29 New York Times article on George Bush, Nicholas Kristof reports: "Characteristically, he does not believe in evolution - he says the jury is still out - but he does not actively disbelieve in it either; as a friend puts it, 'he doesn't really care about that kind of thing.'" (Also see in these pages May 9, 2004: On your knees, America!.)
Well, some do care about that kind of thing, and are puzzled by moves in various states to, if not forbid reaching about evolution, at least force schools to give equal time to a theory called Intelligent Design.

Intelligent Design is the theory – if you want to call it that – that life and all we see in the world are too complex to have been created by nature alone. So there must be a god – or something. This is not proof God exists, as the is no direct evidence, just an appeal to logic. So it is hardly scientific theory – just an idea. Evolutionary theory is big on digging us evidence to support what is contended. Intelligent Design doesn’t seem to need such baggage. But if Intelligent Design shows a creator, what about what was created? Cancer. Milwaukee. One wonders about the intelligence.

For those of us who wonder, it seems in late March we all seemed to have missed the Atheist Alliance International annual conference out here in Los Angeles, where evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins presented the alliance's top honor, the Richard Dawkins Prize, to those odd magicians Penn and Teller. This was, no doubt, for their HBO series “Bullshit” - which debunks what needs to be debunked. It’s not that great a show – slender and sarcastic – but they pick some good targets.

Better to go to someone of substance – like Richard Dawkins himself – who was interviewed by Gordy Slack in SALON in an item that was posted on April 28, 2005: The Atheist: Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins explains why God is a delusion, religion is a virus, and America has slipped back into the Dark Ages.

Slack tells us that at the moment Dawkins is the Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University, a position created for him in 1995 by Charles Simonyi, a Microsoft millionaire. And that earlier this year Dawkins signed an agreement with British television to make a documentary about the destructive role of religion in modern history, tentatively titled "The Root of All Evil." And he’s working on a new book called “The God Delusion.” This not Penn and Teller.

Some of what he says?

Well, with the theory of evolution under attack ? ?Hey, it just a THEORY after all!? ? what about its validity?
It's often said that because evolution happened in the past, and we didn't see it happen, there is no direct evidence for it. That, of course, is nonsense. It's rather like a detective coming on the scene of a crime, obviously after the crime has been committed, and working out what must have happened by looking at the clues that remain. In the story of evolution, the clues are a billionfold.

There are clues from the distribution of DNA codes throughout the animal and plant kingdoms, of protein sequences, of morphological characters that have been analyzed in great detail. Everything fits with the idea that we have here a simple branching tree. The distribution of species on islands and continents throughout the world is exactly what you'd expect if evolution was a fact. The distribution of fossils in space and in time are exactly what you would expect if evolution were a fact. There are millions of facts all pointing in the same direction and no facts pointing in the wrong direction.

British scientist J.B.S. Haldane, when asked what would constitute evidence against evolution, famously said, "Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian." They've never been found. Nothing like that has ever been found. Evolution could be disproved by such facts. But all the fossils that have been found are in the right place. Of course there are plenty of gaps in the fossil record. There's nothing wrong with that. Why shouldn't there be? We're lucky to have fossils at all. But no fossils have been found in the wrong place, such as to disprove the fact of evolution. Evolution is a fact.
Well, the most powerful man in the world says the jury is still out. Who are you going to believe?

Why the resistance to Darwin? The answer is obvious?
It comes, I'm sorry to say, from religion. And from bad religion. You won't find any opposition to the idea of evolution among sophisticated, educated theologians. It comes from an exceedingly retarded, primitive version of religion, which unfortunately is at present undergoing an epidemic in the United States. Not in Europe, not in Britain, but in the United States.

My American friends tell me that you are slipping towards a theocratic Dark Age. Which is very disagreeable for the very large number of educated, intelligent and right-thinking people in America. Unfortunately, at present, it's slightly outnumbered by the ignorant, uneducated people who voted Bush in.

But the broad direction of history is toward enlightenment, and so I think that what America is going through at the moment will prove to be a temporary reverse. I think there is great hope for the future. My advice would be, Don't despair, these things pass.
Well, perhaps. But it may be a long wait.

Oh, and this on the difference between atheism and agnosticism, and on the Intelligent Design business -
It's said that the only rational stance is agnosticism because you can neither prove nor disprove the existence of the supernatural creator. I find that a weak position. It is true that you can't disprove anything but you can put a probability value on it. There are an infinite number of things that you can't disprove: unicorns, werewolves, and teapots in orbit around Mars. But we don't pay any heed to them unless there is some positive reason to think that they do exist.

? For a long time it seemed clear to just about everybody that the beauty and elegance of the world seemed to be prima facie evidence for a divine creator. But the philosopher David Hume already realized three centuries ago that this was a bad argument. It leads to an infinite regression. You can't statistically explain improbable things like living creatures by saying that they must have been designed because you're still left to explain the designer, who must be, if anything, an even more statistically improbable and elegant thing. Design can never be an ultimate explanation for anything. It can only be a proximate explanation. A plane or a car is explained by a designer but that's because the designer himself, the engineer, is explained by natural selection.
Well, the most powerful man in the world says the jury is still out. Who are you going to believe, him or David Hume?

And what about this new book, ?The God Delusion? that he?s writing? Delusion?
A delusion is something that people believe in despite a total lack of evidence. Religion is scarcely distinguishable from childhood delusions like the "imaginary friend" and the bogeyman under the bed. Unfortunately, the God delusion possesses adults, and not just a minority of unfortunates in an asylum. The word "delusion" also carries negative connotations, and religion has plenty of those.

? A delusion that encourages belief where there is no evidence is asking for trouble. Disagreements between incompatible beliefs cannot be settled by reasoned argument because reasoned argument is drummed out of those trained in religion from the cradle. Instead, disagreements are settled by other means which, in extreme cases, inevitably become violent. Scientists disagree among themselves but they never fight over their disagreements. They argue about evidence or go out and seek new evidence. Much the same is true of philosophers, historians and literary critics.

But you don't do that if you just know your holy book is the God-written truth and the other guy knows that his incompatible scripture is too. People brought up to believe in faith and private revelation cannot be persuaded by evidence to change their minds. No wonder religious zealots throughout history have resorted to torture and execution, to crusades and jihads, to holy wars and purges and pogroms, to the Inquisition and the burning of witches.
He?s saying religion is dangerous? Of course he is.

And Slack asks him this ? ?Fifty years ago, philosophers like Bertrand Russell felt that the religious worldview would fade as science and reason emerged. Why hasn't it??

The answer is not surprising.
That trend toward enlightenment has indeed continued in Europe and Britain. It just has not continued in the U.S., and not in the Islamic world. We're seeing a rather unholy alliance between the burgeoning theocracy in the U.S. and its allies, the theocrats in the Islamic world. They are fighting the same battle: Christian on one side, Muslim on the other. The very large numbers of people in the United States and in Europe who don't subscribe to that worldview are caught in the middle.

Actually, holy alliance would be a better phrase. Bush and bin Laden are really on the same side: the side of faith and violence against the side of reason and discussion. Both have implacable faith that they are right and the other is evil. Each believes that when he dies he is going to heaven. Each believes that if he could kill the other, his path to paradise in the next world would be even swifter. The delusional "next world" is welcome to both of them. This world would be a much better place without either of them.
Well, some of us are working on that. As old-fashioned as it is, some of us thought the Enlightenment was a good idea.

But we have, it seems, returned to an age of faith ? except for Richard Dawkins, and those of us cheering him on.


By the way, this is a Darwin Fish ? as seen on the back of the car of a friend, a doctor in New England ?

?Imagine the people who believe such things and who are not ashamed to ignore, totally, all the patient findings of thinking minds through all the centures since the Bible was written. And it is these ignorant people, the most uneducated, the most unimaginative, the most unthinking among us, who would make themselves the guides and leaders of us all; who would force their feeble and childish beliefs on us; who would invade our schools and libraries and homes. I personally resent it bitterly.? - Isaac Asimov, Canadian Atheists Newsletter, 1994

Posted by Alan at 13:21 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 30 April 2005 13:33 PDT home

Friday, 29 April 2005

Topic: The Media

Media Notes: Worms Turning? Notes on This Week?s Press Conference

"It's in our country's interests to find those who would do harm to us and get them out of harm's way."
? George W. Bush, Washington, D.C., April 28, 2005

Okay, he has a problem with clarity. We know that. But there are bigger problems.

Extending previous comments here whether or not there is change in the air – see Media Notes: Spin versus the Crap Detector (quoting E. J. Dionne in the Washington Post and many reader comments) - a day or two before the press conference James Wolcott is here suggesting the press is no longer playing along with Bush and the Bug Man and the Tennessee Doctor for a Vengeful Christ. And yes, before entering politics house majority leader Tom DeLay was an exterminator (Orkin) and senate majority leader Frist was a heart surgeon (HCA – his family owns it). Oh, and Wolcott comments on something not previously noted in these pages - Elisabeth Bumiller’s New York Times piece week or more ago on what was on Bush’s iPod – oldies and country and western. You expected Schoenberg and Sibelius?

Wolcott has this to say -
? Whether the tide has finally turned against Bush, there's no question the tone of the reporting on him has. Elisabeth Bumiller can get all American Idolly about Bush's iPod playlist, but reporters less kitten-smitten are starting to zing his majesty. I was quite struck this morning by the opening sentence of Kenneth Bazinet's article in the NY Daily News on the Dylanesque neverending Bamboozlepalooza Tour (tm Josh Marshall): "President Bush tried to revive his comatose campaign to privatize Social Security yesterday...."

Comatose! A few months ago, that opening sentence would have been carefully phrased, "President Bush, in an uphill battle to..." or "President Bush, facing a challenge over his Social Security..." But now the campaign is recognized as political road kill and the reporter even dares use the word "privatize" instead of the recent Rovian formulation "modernize."

Bush's privatization scheme is dead and too dumb to fall over, to borrow a line from Rita Mae Brown. Today in the NY Times, Congressman Charlie Rangel recounts a conversation with Bush over private accounts. Listen closely and you can hear the steel in Bush's spine stiffening as he postures for posterity. Rangel urges Bush to take private accounts off the table, and Bush replies:

"Congressman, I am the president. [As if Rangel needed reminding which office Bush held.] And private accounts are not coming off the table even if it's the last day I spend in the presidency."

Oooh, so last man at the Alamo. You know that sort of no-retreat, no-capitulation might play well with Americans when Bush is pretending to stand up to terrorists, but most voters recognize that horse-trading and compromise are part of the game in passing legislation, and taking a defiant stand on something most of them oppose (Soc Sec privatization) isn't going to win the gallery applause Bush always expects. He's losing his political touch to his strutting pride--a pride that increasingly takes on the shape of a pathological growth.

Tom DeLay joined Bush on his recent Soc Sec swing, which Bullmoose cites as proof the Bugman Thugman has outplayed Karl Rove:

"Tom DeLay has out-maneuvered the Boy Genius, Karl Rove. DeLay, perhaps more than Rove, comprehends the adage, "Live by the base, die by the base." By attaching himself to the right wing true believers, the Bug Man has made himself bullet-proof to establishment attempts to undermine his rule.

"While observers may deem DeLay's attacks on the judiciary over the top, there is a method to this madness. Delay has successfully tied the right's fate to his.

"So much so that the most powerful man in the world is forced to succumb to DeLay's plan. With his popularity faltering, W cannot antagonize his most faithful believers - even if it may come at a political cost."

I'm not fluent enough in Machiavelli to know who's hoodwinking whom here, but I do think it's a mistake for Rove to be as front and present as he's been recently, giving interviews and laying out the official Bush line. The power of Rove's mystique derived from being in the wings, invisibly manipulating and cooking up mischief. To have him out there doing an Andy Card deprives Bush of sinister backup reserve, which he sorely needs these days as his facade crumbles and he becomes a handholding joke.
Wow ? that?s a lot of political inside stuff to unpack! But the general idea is Bush is in trouble, and the press is now turning on him. Maybe.

Rick, The News Guy in Atlanta, says no -
I do think Wolcott is probably reading too much into this. The difference is that, a few months ago, his Social Security plan may have been in a sickbed, but did not yet have the benefit of enough passing time to cast grave doubts on its recovery. (I do think Bush uses this Social Security hobbyhorse as a tactic to divert attention away from all those things that really DO need to get done, but that he, as a conservative, doesn't want to do anyway. I'm surprised to not see more commentary on that theory.)

But no, personally, I see no trend that mainstream reportage is turning from pro-Bush to anti-Bush. In fact, I saw no signs of it being very much pro-Bush to begin with.

Wolcott does make a good point about Rove coming out of the wings, though. I wonder if it has anything to do with watching his job of getting Bush reelected seeming to waddle away like a lame duck.
Well, we usually defer to Rick ? as he spent his career in the news business and may be one of the few people who has worked closely with both Ted Turner and Roger Ailes ? but something is up.

And Bush held this news conference in network prime time this week, on the first night of network sweeps week, and that?s only the fourth time THAT has happened. War? Big doings?

No, just a pitch for his programs. Nothing extraordinary ? except for the whiff in the air, the faint smell of everything unraveling. It seemed to be time to turn things around ? to charm and astound the American public a get them to buy into the big concepts he has been advocating, with little success, for many months.

But it didn?t really work out so well, and he may have lost the press. Tim Grieve in SALON.COM thinks so, and asks the question, Has the tipping point come?

Note this:
There comes a moment -- it happened to George H.W.Bush, it happened to Bill Clinton -- when reporters in the mainstream media make the pivot against a president. All actions become desperate. All pronouncements become suspect.

One hundreds days into his second term, it's a little early to stick a fork in George W. Bush. But boy, has the tide turned on a president who was so recently the swaggering darling of the national news. The White House had to beg some of the networks to air last night's prime-time news conference; it was the first night of sweeps week, and NBC and Fox couldn't bear the thought that Donald Trump or "The O.C." might be bumped by a not particularly popular commander in chief with little new to say. Bush's media handlers, who value nothing more than the president's reputation for resoluteness, caved in at the last minute and moved up the presser by half an hour so that most of the prime-time entertainment could appear on schedule. Bush made a joke about it all toward the end of the press conference, but, as the New York Times notes, a lot of viewers didn't see it: NBC and CBS had already cut away.

If he reads the papers today, Bush might find himself wishing that the print reporters had left early, too. Forget the analysis pieces, almost all of which focus on the sorry shape of the president's second-term agenda; notice the hostile tone in the straight news stories today.

Under a front-page headline that reads, "Bush Cites Plan That Would Cut Social Security Benefits," the Times says Bush's press conference "represented an effort to regain control of the national dialogue at a time when Mr. Bush is struggling to push his Social Security plan ahead on Capitol Hill, his approval ratings are falling, the economy is showing signs of slowing and Democrats have become more combative."

The Washington Post leads with the headline, "Bush Social Security Plan Would Cut Future Benefits," and its main news story describes a president clamoring for relevance. The press conference "came at a time of uncertainty for a president facing sagging poll numbers, a slowing economy and general unease about his domestic agenda," the Post says, citing White House aides who say Bush is "concerned his agenda is being eclipsed by congressional bickering."

The Boston Globe says Bush met the press "amid an array of problems, including the stalled nomination of some of his judicial nominees, and of John Bolton to become US ambassador to the United Nations, ethics questions surrounding a key ally, House majority leader Tom DeLay, a sliding stock market, continuing violence in Iraq, and record energy prices."

And the Los Angeles Times headlines its coverage, "Bush Recasts Message on Social Security," then ticks off a litany of problems for which the president apparently has no plan: "The nation's economic growth has slowed. . . . The price of gasoline has soared. . . . Bush's overall popularity has sagged in public opinion polls. . . . The president acknowledged no anxiety over those trends, beyond his concern over gas prices and the economy. 'I'm an optimistic fellow,' he said."

If Bush continues to get coverage like this, he'd better be.
Wolcott may have been onto something.

And the hammering on the web logs has been brutal. Since the main issue was Social Security, that does get some attention. The White House is reported to be very angry that the new ?plan? was reported as cutting benefits. No, they say, it was just a way to cut benefits to those better off, and to help the really needy.

Yeah, right. See this -
As Think Progress points out, Bush is now defining people who are "better off" as anyone earning over $20,000 per year. When selling his tax cuts, he defined people who were the "lowest income taxpayers" as anyone earning under $100,000.

Look, this is important. Our media is running around talking about how "rich people" are going to have their benefits cut, as if Bush's cunning plan to save Social Security is to take away Bill Gates's check. Social Security benefits currently max out at $90,000 salary. People who earn $90,000 a year are generally not portrayed by the kool kids in the media as "rich" or "wealthy" or even "upper income." Obviously people who earn that much are at the higher end of the income distribution, but especially for such people who live in high cost metro areas, they don't have lives which are noticeably distinguishable from what we think of as "middle class.'
Yeah, it seems to be a matter of definition ? or a shell game with words.

So what is the media up to? Well, maybe they do play along with Bush still.

Over at Media Matters you will find this (and if you click up the piece you will be able to click through to all the supporting documentation) -
One day after President Bush's April 28 press conference, the 10 largest U.S. newspapers obscured the full impact of Bush's proposed cuts in Social Security benefits. While some articles failed to note that the proposal would drastically cut benefits for lower-middle-income workers and not just for the wealthy, others neglected to describe the changes as cuts at all, instead repeating the Republican talking point that they would merely slow the rate of growth in benefits. The Wall Street Journal and the Associated Press even falsely reported that low-income workers would receive greater benefits under the Bush plan than under current law.

Bush's proposal, which the White House acknowledged is based upon a plan developed by Robert C. Pozen, would provide a tiered system of benefits based on income. This proposal would likely cut the level of benefits promised under the current Social Security system for all workers making more than $20,000 a year -- or just above the poverty threshold of $19,157 for a family of four, with two children -- while leaving benefit levels for those making under $20,000 unchanged.

? Several major newspapers adopted Bush's characterization of his proposal as a slowdown in the rate at which benefits increase for higher income workers, rather than stating what it would be - a cut in promised benefits.
And this is followed by the words (with links) in many of the newspapers. Media Matters thinks the mainstream media still carries the water for Bush.

Well, it is hard to tell. You report what he says. And if what he says is spin, and not exactly true? Then what do you do?

Maybe you just use logic.

Kevin Drum uses logic here -

Here's your new Republican budget: The House and Senate broke a lengthy impasse over federal spending Thursday night, narrowly adopting a $2.56 trillion federal budget for 2006 that aims to trim the growth of Medicaid by $10 billion over five years, add $106 billion in tax cuts and clear the way for oil drilling in an Alaskan wildlife refuge.

Attaboy! Reduce the deficit $10 billion by cutting back on healthcare for the poor, and then turn around and increase the deficit $106 billion by approving additional tax cuts for the rich. Moral values, baby, moral values.
Yeah, watch what they do, not what they say.

And little by little, the mainstream press is starting to do that. And one supposes they are starting to do that because the war is effectively over ? at least as a hot story ? and no one will call them traitors for raising questions about domestic issues.

That may be cowardly, but it is a start.

Posted by Alan at 20:14 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 30 April 2005 13:41 PDT home

Topic: The Law

Web Notes: Trademark and Public Domain Issues with the Eiffel Tower

I do not suppose this will effect any of us with websites – unless our sites make a whole lot of profit (unlikely) – but if we take a picture of the Eiffel Tower at night there now is a licensing fee to post it. The item below notes that tourists posting to their own websites will not be targeted. But one wonders if Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, once he gets a gazillion readers and is rolling in Euros, will need to kick some money back to the office of Jean-Bernard Bros, SNTE president and deputy mayor of Paris for tourism. The thing is, after all, a monument situated in the public domain. But… .

Ah heck, I haven’t yet read up on night shooting with my new Nikon D70 and the tripod is still in the box. I’ll worry about it later.

But there was this in the news this week -

Eiffel Tower a Different Story by Night
Mikael G. Holter, Associated Press - Tuesday April 26, 3:45 PM ET

Here’s the scoop -
Snapping a picture of the Eiffel Tower by day, or snapping one by night. For many businesses, there's a big difference.

Every night, when lit and made visible for miles around, the Eiffel Tower becomes a registered trademark.

SNTE, the semiprivate company that manages the tower for Paris, allows the press and postcard makers to use the image for free. But moviemakers, advertisers and others seeking to use the tower's image for commercial use must pay.

Prices vary, depending on the medium and how long an ad will run. SNTE official Stephane Dieu said the firm charges $19,600 for commercials that run for a year on French television — and possibly more for a worldwide campaign. Print advertisers are charged $650 to $6,500.

The company says the trademark's primary purpose is to protect the tower's image — not make megabucks.

"We don't make a commerce of it," Dieu said.
Well, drat! The AP items goes on to note that other monuments in Paris - the Pantheon and the Arc de Triomphe - are free of rights. And this is according to Paris City Hall and the Center for National Monuments, the public body that manages French landmarks. Day or night. It doesn’t matter there. And it seems the SNTE admits that of the eight million dollars in profit that the tower turned last year, only a small part - $69,276 to be precise - came from payment of rights for commercial use of the image. So what’s the big deal?

Stephane Dieu of the SNTE says they handle about a thousand of these trademark cases, and about ten percent of those end with in the bad guys paying up. Why bother?

A little trademark history to help explain -
The Eiffel Tower's trademark was established when artist Pierre Bideau installed the tower's current illumination in 1985.

To mark the new millennium in 2000, the tower was covered with 20,000 flashing light bulbs. The spectacle left Parisians wanting more, and the twinkling lights, another Bideau creation, were put up on a permanent basis in 2003, becoming a feature of Paris by night. Like the original lighting, the sparkling lights are a registered trademark. They twinkle for 10 minutes of every hour, from nightfall until 2 a.m.

Philippe Francois, who handles legal issues for another Paris monument, the Grande Arche de la Defense, said a lighting artist's work should be protected and rewarded.

"If you use specifically the image of the lit Eiffel Tower, it is because it has additional beauty," Francois said.
Well, one can see that point – but they put the thing right out there in the open!

But then the AP quotes a French communications lawyer who thinks this is silly, one Gerard Ducrey - "Without the monument, the lighting couldn't exist. It seems paradoxical to me that by this addition one can decide that a monument situated in the public domain be appropriated in a privative way."

But Jean-Bernard Bros, who is SNTE president and deputy mayor of Paris for tourism, is quoted as saying the lighting trademark "has helped protect the tower in a changing media environment." He seems to have been upset when a website advertising the services of ladies of the night, so to speak, showed the ladies and the tower in the same shot. He won that case - or rather, he threatened legal action and the other party backed off.

French Puritanism? Perhaps.

Rick, The News Guy in Atlanta, and editor and publisher of City-Directory Atlanta, is not impressed –
I'm totally with this Gerard Ducrey, the communications lawyer. I would like to see someone challenge this silliness under International Copyright law. It's out in the public domain, whether you illuminate the damn thing with light bulbs or not.

The fact that this article hardly touches on the various sides of the obvious controversy is absurd.
And Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, being there, has the definitive word –
The Ville de Paris 'owns' the Tour Eiffel, but the taxpayers of Paris 'own' the Ville de Paris. The city is a custodian of the [people's] tower, responsible for managing it correctly. As such the city is probably competent to decide what is 'fair use' and to go after those who would use it unfairly, especially for private gain.

If the photo I have sent is used [see below], it illustrates how the city is using the tower to promote its bid for the summer Olympics in 2012. Some Parisians do not think this is 'fair use.' To drive the point home, the photo also illustrates this note - which constitutes legitimate debate regarding the 'fair use' of public monuments, and is not for the explicit profit of Just Above Sunset - which is not a front for a porn ring.

The city is probably within its rights to charge for the use of an image of the Tour Eiffel when it has been incorporated into a company logo or a commercial sign unrelated to the business of the Ville de Paris, which is municipal government.

In a like manner the 'national monuments' of France guard the rights of reproduction for all French national monuments. These 'rights' extend to private citizens, their belongings, dogs, bicycles, etc. Various professional photographer associations are fighting against these blanket measures, because of the way courts have upheld these 'rights.' As it is, the only photo taken in France that may be free of 'rights' is one you take in you own bathroom at night with the lights off and the door locked.

In short it means that ninty-five percent of all the classic photos taken in Paris by famous photographers of the past would infringe on 'rights' today - infringe on so many 'rights' that the photos would be unpublishable. In the current climate these rules include paintings, such as Andy Warhol's soup cans - or serigraphs of Marilyn Monroe.

Otherwise, art is alive and well in Paris.
And here is Ric’s photo of the tower being used for a promotion. He’s in trouble? I’m in trouble?

No, it’s a daylight shot.

Posted by Alan at 18:25 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 29 April 2005 18:27 PDT home

Thursday, 28 April 2005

Topic: Making Use of History

The Alarmist Dialogs: On the crazies who are pulling all the strings in Washington today, rubber-stamped by an uninformed electorate who already doesn't hold complex political theory in very high regard…

An interesting question here from Dave Johnson over at Seeing The Forest. And the answer it is the will of the people. It is what they voted for.
Setting Aside The Rules

I participated in a conference call with Senate Minority Leader Reid Monday. The topic was the Republican "nuclear option" of not allowing filibusters anymore.

Senator Reid said something that I don't think the public is being made sufficiently aware of. He said that the Senate Parliamentarian has stated that this idea the Republicans have of changing the rules of the Senate to disallow filibusters of judicial nominations is itself against the rules of the Senate! (For one thing, the rule change itself could be filibustered, so the Republican insistence that 51 votes is enough to change the rules is against the rules.)

But the Republicans are saying no, they are just going to change the rule, regardless of what the Senate rules allow or do not allow. Just because they can, and no one can stop them.

I think the implications of this are disturbing, to say the least. The Republicans are saying they just will not follow the rules of the Senate, because they have the power to say this, and that's that. Rules will no longer apply. And as I understand it the Democrats can't take this to the courts, because separation of powers prevents the courts from getting involved with the internal rules of the Senate. (And if they could take it before the courts, would judges appointed under the Republican rules hear the case...?)

So this is a bigger deal than just a battle over appointing a few judges. This will be a full-blown Constitutional crisis, well beyond the 2000 Supreme Court decision to set aside the election and appoint Bush as President. This will be about the Republicans saying they will just make up the rules as they go along, because they have the power to do so.

My question is, how is this different from a coup, takeover, whatever you want to call it? I ask that question in all seriousness and I hope we can have a discussion in the comments, because I don't know the answer. I know I get worked up over things like this (I mean, I'm a blogger, right?) and I would like someone to calm me down and tell me how this is not a takeover. Leave a comment. Reassure me. Tell me not to worry.
Okay. Don’t worry.

On the other hand, our high-powered Wall Street attorney disagrees -
Can't do that. Worry! These are dark days indeed.
But Vince in Rochester asks for information:
Besides hanging on here for potential insight from our attorney friend or other students of rule-making, I'm also curious to hear from any historians we may have in our house to comment on whether there have been similar challenges to the rule of law in the past. Have other generations suffered through abuse of due process - either on the congressional floor or out in the "relatively" open operations of our governmental agency process? Perhaps in those lawless days of the late 19th century?

And if so, how did they re-right the ship of state to the balanced bipartisan process we've all come to love and embrace? (… return with us now to the days of yesteryear, when things were sane! or appeared that way...)

And I'm guessing the reaction to the Johnson query will split evenly down partisan lines... or so I fear.
Have there have been similar challenges to the rule of law in the past? The Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 come to mind (see this in these pages where they are compared to the USA Patriot Act of 2001), but that is not exactly the same sort of thing.

FDR trying to pack the Supreme Court in the thirties?

I don’t know.

This push for theocracy may be a first – not that it hasn’t been tried before. This time it seems to be working. (Jeffrey Hart is an emeritus professor of English at Dartmouth College and a former speechwriter for Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon, and he has a pretty good but really long explanation of American Christian evangelical movement in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette from Sunday, April 17 here. The impulse is not new – the relative success is.)

The correction? Common sense?

That’s in short supply these days. More scotch will do. As our attorney friend often says to me – he prefers the phone to this forum given his workload and family demands – we’re screwed.

Rick, The News Guy in Atlanta, offers some historical clarification regarding The Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 and FDR trying to pack the Court -
The first was an actual legal statute, signed into law by John Adams (reportedly only signing it because his wife was so much in favor of it, but also allegedly relieved when it eventually went out of existence, the law having been such an embarrassment to him.) The acts may actually have been unconstitutional, but this all happened before John Marshall's court established the responsibility of the judiciary to decide such things.

And FDR, as I recall, also tried his packing scheme the legal way, but failed. (Although the attempt did spook the Supremes enough in 1937, prompting them to change their approach to the Constitution such that the present day "Constitution in Exile" conservatives think SCOTUS continues to uphold unconstitutional laws all the time. See the article a week or so ago in the New York Times Sunday Magazine.) [That was April 17, 2005 - available here for a fee, and discussed by lawyers here and here.]

But what is being discussed here, of course, are Senate "rules," not actual laws as such. And as someone else pointed out in here, Senate rules are out of the reach of the courts, who see them as in the "political" jurisdiction of Senate leaders, as opposed to "legal" jurisdiction of courts. Tradition has been that to treat it differently could be seen as a violation of the separation of the three branches.

Then again, I myself (although admittedly not an expert on this stuff) would guess that, if ever the Senate rule-changing got way out of hand, the Supreme Court, the acknowledged defender of the Constitutional faith, could intervene on the grounds that - let's face it - the Constitution does lay out the basic idea of what Congress is supposed to do, something the Senate does not have the power to change without going through the amendment process. But if it ever came to this, I imagine that would be considered a "constitutional crisis" if there ever was one, especially if the Senators fight back.

Of course, we may already be heading toward such a crisis, given that certain segments of Congress are discussing impeaching judges who they disagree with. It seems to me the Constitution is pretty clear about how this is not allowed.

Still that's interesting about this rule change being technically against the rules, and that the change itself could be filibustered. I wonder why we haven't heard much about that.
Why? Because folks don’t like details, or complex sentences? But it is curious.

Nevertheless, as our attorney friend says – we may be screwed. This is, actually, a big deal.

Then, out of the blue, this came across the transom – or the email equivalent of a transom - from Joseph, our expatriate American in Paris – who was finally aroused from his long silence by this topic -
I've been way to busy (and possibly too apathetic) to participate of late, and the immediate future does not bode well. Moving to Belgium next week, for chrissakes!

But I disagree that were screwed. Were only temporarily screwed. Yep, this is a constitutional crisis of the highest order, one that could end our current government (but only in that French 5th Republic kind of way).

Bring it on.

I've been saying for a long time that the constitution is a broken document, one that doesn't work in the age of news 24/7, the fiction of "states rights", the military industrial complex, shamelessly gerrymandered congressional districts, 100 million dollar presidential campaigns and so on. This is our chance to stop thinking of the constitution as some holy writ, and eventually enter a 2nd American Republic, with a constitution that works today. This will only happen if the 1st completely stops working.

Hey, this will be painful. We may have to live through some dark years, but this is a way forward, don't you think? A bit of creative destruction?

George Bush, President for Life! (pardon the pun)
Belgium? Whatever.

Well, another friend who teaches would-be MBA’s at a famous business school adds this -
Joseph, you're on to the same kick that gave Tom Peters his big third run of remaking his evangelical self - the break it and rebuild it (before someone else breaks you first) kick. Peters advocated institutional pro-activity. As we all know institutions - especially public ones - are anything but - so in a reactionary sense, Tom (and me too) would approve of your French Republic corollary.

And Belgium gets to claim you next? Is that good fortune? Hope so! Have fun with the disruption in lifestyle (personal microcosm of your national thoughts?)
Well, moving from Paris to Belgium may play a part in the thinking here. All is flux, and all that. The peripatetic sees things differently? And curiously, no one in the pages has mentioned Tom Peters before. Perhaps this is a matter best thought through using organizational theory, or even Peters’ dumbed-down pop version of such theory.

But Rick, The News Guy in Atlanta, gets REALLY alarmed -
Yipes! I really disagree with you two on this one.

I really like the idea of us having the world's oldest constitution still in effect, and have always been proud that we didn't go the route of the French (who, don't get me wrong, I mostly admire otherwise), with this business of knowing you can always just scrap the old plan and come up with a new one. I think that would, especially in this country, open the system up to lots of very dangerous mischief, most likely supplied by the crazies who are pulling all the strings in Washington today and rubber-stamped by an uninformed electorate who already doesn't hold complex political theory in very high regard.

With whatever there may be wrong with our constitution today, I vote we keep improving on it, rather than risk what might happen if we trash the whole thing and start over.
Well, new Constitution Convention would be amusing. Or not.

And Dick in upstate New York adds, not without dark humor –
Joseph, I understand the idea that if you want an omelet you have to break some eggs. That said, I ain't real hot on bulldozing the henhouse. The theoretical improvement that you think might benefit my grandchildren (if I had any) isn't going to help me a whole lot, and I would just as soon not go through an "It Can't Happen Here" or "Handmaid's Tale" to get to Utopia.
Ah, but sometimes you have to take risks?

No, you don’t. We might get that theocracy, where gays – the new Jews? – end up in the concentration camps. And who knows what else. A state religion? It would not be the Unitarians.

Let the people – all of them - argue all this out? Randall Terry and Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly on one side? On the other side? Bill Moyer? Michael Moore? We could get a civil war – a real one.

But, then again, it might be fun. These are indeed odd times.

Posted by Alan at 21:31 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 30 April 2005 13:26 PDT home

Wednesday, 27 April 2005

Media Notes: Spin versus the Crap Detector

“In order to be a great writer a person must have a built-in, shockproof crap detector.” – Ernest Hemingway

Last weekend’s Just above Sunset item The Grownups Will Tell You What You Need to Know generated some comment generated some reader comment. The item was about what Eric Alterman called the Republicans’ clear, agreed-upon plan to diminish the mainstream press. The discussion was about just what we are allowed to know – actually about how spinning the news has been taken to new heights, or lows, depending on your point of view, and on your party affiliation.

And it included a quote from the president’s advisor Karen Hughes - "We don't see there being any penalty from the voters for ignoring the mainstream press."

Of course, Rick, The News Guy in Atlanta, who was in at the start of CNN, had a reaction -
Wouldn't it be neat if whoever she said that to didn't have a professional responsibility to keep his outrage to himself, or herself? Yeah, but that's only a fantasy, since if the questioner had that power, they wouldn't be let inside the door to ask those questions.

You hear a lot of people these days -- Mostly liberals? No, maybe all of them liberals -- bemoan the fact that we don't have "Question Time" like they do in the British Parliament once a week. I myself don't find that all that useful, all those pols jeering and cheering on cue as if they're at a football match, but I sometimes think we should have something like it written into the Constitution where the president and his top leadership have to sit for an hour or two and face nothing but hostile questions. Maybe they could do a reverse of the Bush campaign trick by only allowing entrance if you sign a pledge saying you don't support these people. Now THAT would make compelling television!

But I'm not saying this is all the fault of Bush et al, including Karen Hughes. Somewhere this past week, I heard what was said to be an old African saying, that "the ruin of a nation begins in the homes of its people."

At some point, we have to lay much, if not most, of the blame upon ourselves, the voters, for not paying enough attention to the health of our democracy. Let all the ridiculous wonks and pundits talk each other to death, we seem to say. Paying attention to politics is like eating broccoli, it's something you know you should do, but it's much more work than fun, and I'm old enough now that no grownup can make me do something I just don't feel like doing.

So while we obsess about who's next to be voted off some imaginary island on TV, we have a Republican dictatorship in Washington engineering what may be (for all I know) the first-ever-in-American-history clean sweep of any party's Appeals Court nominations, a huge tragedy that gets lost in all the recent discussion of what to do about the filibuster.

Somehow we need to find a way to impress on our fellow countrymen and women that they need to find out -- and to understand in the context of what historically this country is all about -- what's going on in their country and in their world, and then take that knowledge to their local polling place on election day. Somehow we need to make it easier for people to figure out what's at stake in every election, both national and local.

How to do this? I just don't know. Something between browbeating and encouragement, I reckon. Appeal to that little adult hiding down deep inside every American? Naw, forget I said that. What was I thinking, that 2004 never happened?

Anyway, any suggestions?
No, no suggestions.

Bob Patterson, added this ?
Ron Suskind quotes these guys saying ?we create our own reality.?

And while you're studying that reality - judiciously, as you will - we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too.

The Democrats seem (mark that word) to be operating as if they accept the statements that Jeb will not run as chiseled in stone. If in late 2007, Jeb hears that the public is "demanding" that he run for president, the Democrats will have a whole new reality to accommodate. The fact that they did not go into a "prevent defense" during 2005, 2006, and 2007 may seem like they frittered away the chance to use all that time to link Jeb negatively with some nasty stuff. They will, in effect, give him a clean bill of health (and a free ride) for all that time.

Then in early 2008, the Democrats can try to stop a run-a-way "bandwagon" effect and sound like a BB rattling around in a boxcar while the press obligingly meets the "reluctant" candidate with the 1812 overture featuring the loudest accompanying canons ever. (Didn't one performance actually use 105 mm howitzers provided by the US Army?)

What if Dubya's fanatical religious base quietly begins to "demand" that he run for a third term? Couldn't the ever-Bush-obliging Supreme Court hand him that opportunity on a technicality?

The Suskind quote seems to confirm the Democrats? assessment that the Republicans act (sometimes by telling a "fib") and that, while the Democrats scramble to react (let's sing "Liar, liar, pants on fire!"), the Republicans are busy planning their next "rock 'em sock 'em" move to maintain the momentum. (Old boxing strategy: jab, jab, jab, jab, jab?.)

I think assuming that Jeb won't run is what Karl Rove would call a "fake out" maneuver.

In 2001, I wrote (not in Just Above Sunset) that the Democrats were crazy if they honestly thought that Bush stole the 2000 election - but would be a nice guy and while holding the office of president would suddenly relent and hold an honest (with no paper trail) election in 2004.

What was the story about the grasshoppers who didn't prepare for winter?
And Vince in Rochester picks up on Rick?s question about how to get people more involved.
How to do this? I just don't know. Something between browbeating and encouragement, I reckon. Anyway, any suggestions?

Rick, it would seem upon reviewing -

1) Bob's succinct re-recounting of the Democrat Movement's standard "response model" to anything dangerous out there in the dark deep woods ?

2) along with the outrageousness of the accumulating evidence that the Karl Rove inspired "red herring" movement rolls on day after day after day... as we preen in the glow of our TV's

it might be concluded that Middle America will only get excited enough to pay attention if there is SOMETHING TO PAY ATTENTION TO!

I'm guessing we have to find ourselves a new movement.

Arlo's old line: Two is a conspiracy, why ? three is a whole movement! People need something to rally around. And the current controllers won't be let anything emerge if they can help it.

So what can we invent that's got new gathering power? Good question? New messiah out there to rally around? It WILL take something POSITIVE and new. NO ONE WILL RALLY AROUND A REBUTTAL! Kerry reminded us of that truth. So who or what can we all get excited about? Therein lies the future.

No real answers here, but insight's not a bad place to start.
Well Rick also said this ? "We need to find a way to impress on our fellow countrymen and women that they need to find out - and to understand in the context of what historically this country is all about - what's going on in their country and in their world, and then take that knowledge to their local polling place on election day. Somehow we need to make it easier for people to figure out what's at stake in every election, both national and local."

I don't see that happening. My weekly site and daily blog are read, if read at all, by people who are already interested in such stuff and are, so to speak, on my side. It's that echo-chamber thing. The policy wonk, history buff, theory-of-government echo-chamber. Oh, the sites might pull in a few regular Fred and Ethyl types - with snazzy pictures and Ric's columns from Paris, and Bob's book column - but that's unlikely. You can just skip the text - and I know many readers who do.

Example? I know a woman out here whose only news sources are Fox national, the local weather, and CBS Sunday Morning - who hasn't stepped into a voting booth in thirty-five years - who subscribes to no newspaper and no magazines (never has) ? who does her CEO job seventy hours a week, worries about her grandkids, and worries about her son in the Army in Mosul. She loves the pictures - and she's a big fan of Phillip Raines? pieces. She thinks he's terrific. She doesn't read the rest.

And worrying about her son is Mosul has absolutely no political content. She doesn't know why he's there, and she doesn't think about it. That's for other folks. She just wants him to come back alive, and whole - completely assembled, to put it politely. Of course. This other stuff is not her business - and she doesn't see why I care. Her mantra? No one can do anything about that stuff. Other folks decide that stuff. You deal with the cards you're dealt.

To her credit, she doesn't watch the eat-another-worm reality shows, or American Idol with its ninth-rate singers, or follow celebrity news - at all. She reads mystery novels, those gushy ones written by women, and now and then watches old movies, or when she can, watches fey men figure skating. On the weekends she often has golf on the television - using it as a soporific (it does help you doze off quickly when you stretch out on the sofa). But that means there is no medium, or media, by which to reach her. Oh yeah - she doesn't listen to talk radio at all. She prefers the oldies station out of Los Angeles - KRTH.

She's pretty typical. I don't see her changing. Should her son not make it back, she won't turn political, one way or the other. She'll deal with it. A private matter.

But her son - the West Point man - can sit with me for hours and we talk policy and history and theory. His mother walks out of the room. His older brother - avidly conservative and far to the right of anyone else I know - will talk economics and taxes and social policy with me. We have a fine time. And his mother walks out of the room.

Almost everyone walks out of the room. Her two sons are unusual. Folks like this woman are the target audience you seem to think should be reached. I don't see how.

Bob and Vince talk about what the Democrats have done, and should do. Does it matter?

I posted this on 28 May 2003 - - and stand by it:
Do you remember the clear-headed, no-bullshit, let's-be-fair liberals of yesterday? Bobby Kennedy in that last run just laying it all out - hey, some stuff is wrong here and why don't we think it through, fix it and make things better? Well, Bobby got shot. Martin Luther King doing the same thing. Well, he got shot a few months earlier than Bobby. Of course, to be fair, George Wallace got shot too. Lots of people got shot.

But the point is that those optimistic "why don't we fix it and make things better" kinds of guys are nowhere to be found these days. What you'll see on Bush campaign stickers in the 2004 election? You know - variations on "Just Do It" or "Money Talks, Bullshit Walks" or "Get In, Sit Down, Shut Up, And Hold On" - and of course that quote from Marge Simpson - "We can stand here like the French, or we can do something about it." The other side, the Democrats, will have bumper stickers asking if we all can't just get along.

No Democrat will win anything by whining about the smirking frat boy or by fretting about some British essayist hating cheeseburgers and everything American. To win the Democrats would have to field an opponent with a sense of humor, some brains, and a lot of optimism, someone who listens to what is being said, and is willing to say - "Hey, some stuff is wrong here and why don't we think it through, fix it and make things better?"

It does not seem like that is going to happen. And if it did, he or she would get shot.
How are things different now?

Vince says this in reply -
Those of us who read and think are in position to dream something up and do something about it.

Karl Rove reads and thinks. His victims are just that.

We (collectively - someone in our midst) must do the same as Rove ? only different.
Sure. But what? Publish a web log and weekly commentary magazine? Ric Erickson in Paris says that might be just the thing ? one shouldn?t walk out of the room.
JustAboveSunset is one grain of sand. The blog adds a grain per day and the web version adds grains per week. These types... 'policy wonk, history buff, theory-of-government...' come to JAS to see the message, add to their message, massage the message, producing yet more grains of sand messages. Like building pyramids, one grain of sand at a time, the grains pile up becoming blocks of stone. There isn't an architect; just leaderless ants each carrying a grain of sand. How long will it be before a shape emerges? It depends on atmospherics, accumulation. It may be foggy but it's happening.
Really? Any part of the mainstream press, with a gazillion more readers that these two sites, follows the party line, lest they offend the corporate owners, or be ridiculed as part of the vast, left-wing conspiracy, or lest they lose the inside sources the now have who may be offended.

The news is shaped by those in power. Small pyramids don?t matter much.

Ah, but then there is something I missed ? the argument that there IS change in the air. Pleasant moderates are manning the barricades in a sort of agreeable revolution? Consider the evidence that follows.

Revolt of the Middle
E. J. Dionne Jr. ? The Washington Post - Tuesday, April 26, 2005; Page A15

The opening is cool -
If you were to prepare a list of the top 10 stories you will never, ever read in a newspaper, one of them would surely include a sentence beginning: "Thousands of angry, screaming moderates took to the streets yesterday demanding..."

You can finish that sentence however you would like. The accepted view in politics is that moderates don't get angry, don't scream and don't demonstrate. Politics these days is said to be dominated by ideological enthusiasts. Moderates are thought of as people who sit on the sidelines and decide which batch of true believers they can most easily live with.

But something important has happened since President Bush's inauguration. America's moderates may not be screaming, but they're in revolt. ?
Really? Dionne is contending that many Americans who reluctantly supported the president and the Republicans in 2004 are turning away. Why? He suggests the Social Security agenda ? who needs it when you can invest your own money in the stock market? - has put people off, and that this business with getting rid of the filibuster so we can get judges who follow the Bible first and the constitution second has also put people off. And there is that Terri Schiavo mess ? with most of those polled saying the federal government had no business getting involved and wasting all that time and money. Dionne is saying most moderates, as he formulates it, have a practical, problem-solving view of government and think these issues are far less important than shoring up a shaky economy and improving living standards.

It is hard to see that from watching the news. That?s not the spin one sees on television.

So, what is the evidence?
The latest poll to bring home this message was released late last week by the Democracy Corps, a Democratic consortium led by pollster Stan Greenberg and consultant James Carville. Greenberg and Carville are not triumphalist. They are careful to note that "Democrats are not yet integral to the narrative" of American politics and that the decline in the Republicans' public image "is not accompanied by image gains for the Democrats."

Democrats still have a lot of work to do.

But one finding deserves more attention than it has received: The "biggest drops" in the Republicans' standing, the pollsters noted, "have come from people who do not identify with a party," with "those who describe themselves as ideologically moderate" and with "mainline Protestants," that is, Protestants outside the ranks of the evangelical and fundamentalist churches. These are classic middle-of-the-road groups.

When they were asked how they would vote if a congressional election were held now, Democrats led by 43 percent to 25 percent among independents, and by 57 percent to 31 percent among moderates. In 2004, according to the network exit polls, Kerry beat Bush by only one point among independents and by nine points among moderates.

And in an amusing but revealing question, the pollsters asked how Americans would vote in a contest between Bill Clinton and George W. Bush if the Constitution were changed to allow them to run in 2008. Clinton beat Bush, 53 percent to 43 percent -- a rather decisive judgment on our two most recent political legacies. While Carville, the Clinton loyalist, no doubt liked this result, there's no evidence that the question or the poll itself was skewed.
But such information doesn?t fit the conflict-narrative that makes the news so interesting, does it? The revolt of the nice, middle-of-the-road folks? Where?s the hook?

But something is up. Dionne says that smart Republicans are very worried.

Yes, charges that Democrats are "obstructionist" have not worked ? ending Social Security, appointing theocrats to the bench, telling the Florida court that had it wrong for fifteen years and that woman?s body should be kept functioning because we are a ?culture of life? and all that ? and people are a bit perplexed at why we cannot have the government we elected do something useful for a change.

Well, the Czechs had that Velvet Revolution and few decades ago. This might be the start of something a bit more pragmatic ? manning the barricades and demanding attention be paid to something useful in the everyday world.

But this may be a misreading of the tenor of the times. I do not see a return to a practical, problem-solving view of government. That?s so last century. This is the age of the attack dog and bully (Bolton comes to mind) and that?s a Bubba thing.

A minor aside on John Bolton. See this -

An ambivalent sadness settled over me today when it appeared that Bolton might lose his bid to represent my country at the UN. Whatever else you might say about him, he represents the attitude and manner of many Americans and our relationship with other countries. He is arrogant, abusive, jingoistic, a schoolyard bully and mean. In other words he is our foreign policy unvarnished. Bolton would have represented the true face of the Bush administration without the fake boyish smile. That would have been helpful to other countries who might otherwise have been induced to trust us to be decent, humane, or truthful.
Ah, another voice suggesting we return to something normal.

Can the Democrats make anything of this? Probably not.

Over at The Daily Kos we get this challenge
Ask any person on the street what a Republican stands for, and you'll get a single answer -- smaller government and lower taxes, family values, and a strong national defense. We can quibble about the GOP's real commitment to those values, but at the end of the day, they form a strong brand around which the GOP's entire agenda can be framed.

Ask 10 people what the Democrats stand for, and you'll get 10 different answers. Ask me what the Democrats stand for, and I'll stare back speechless.

The GOP has been brilliant in distilling their brand into three points, and I have been arguing that Democrats need to follow. Except that in a stroke of inspiration, I was able to distill the Democratic brand into a single short sentence:

Democrats are the party for people who work for a living

This includes our core labor constituency, obviously, but also small businessmen and women who have been shamefully ignored by our party. It includes our men and women in uniform. It includes anyone who depends on their paycheck to make ends meet.

Tell me why I'm wrong.
Because this is just a slogan? No one will buy into this ? as a branding thing ? if the mainstream media won?t pick up on the concept. You not only have to have a brand ? you have to spin it, and too there is product placement and all the rest.

A friend who actually teaches marketing to would-be MBA?s at a big business school, and a bit of a cynic, adds this ?
You know, these days Republicans might claim that Democrats are all those who SUPPORT people who DON'T work for a living!

Have Republicans also been clever enough not ONLY to brand themselves but also to anti-brand the opposition?
Yes. And the press has cooperated with them.

But then Rick, The News Guy in Atlanta, has a final word ?
The answer for you Democrats, in fact, is not to define yourselves by what the other guys don't believe about themselves, but by what this country really needs.

When you think of it, the Republicans are pretty cynical, negative people, ready to jettison any segment of the citizenry in a heartbeat, whether they be folks who don't share their religious biases, sexual preferences, or bean-dip-brained approach to foreign policy. The Democrats should have the guts to be the party that doesn't really exclude anybody! (Unless, of course, somebody doesn't agree with us -- in which case, those folks will be on their own.)

The Republicans inside the Beltway, who recently seemed so pleased to discover that nobody was noticing what they were doing (see "Karen Hughes"), are now starting to wake up to the fact that maybe they can't get away with rewriting all the rules without being punished for it (see today's story of the House GOP doing an about-face in their attempted Ethics Committee coup.) Even folks in Tom Delay's home district now have questions about him, and the "nuclear option" now seems to be developing naysayers on even the majority side in the Senate.

The moral for the Democrats? Maybe it's "Keep the faith! Do the right thing, even in the darkness where nobody but God can see, and just possibly, someday soon, the light will return!"

What I like most about the Democrats is they, more than any other party, seem to share the founders' attitudes about who this country is meant for -- everybody! We're all in this together! Not just rich people, not just Christians, (eventually) not just white people or males, and not just Republicans. This country is owned by all of us, and we all should be running it. And the Democrats can make this happen.

Let the Republicans define themselves however they want, the Democrats should just be the party that stands for "doing what's right!"

(PS: By the way, can I call 'em or what? Today I heard Jerry Springer on Air America Radio arguing the point that "Jesus was a liberal!" I'm telling you, this idea is starting to build!)
I like that!

So maybe there is some hope.

And that?s the end of this little grain of sand. I don?t see the pyramid growing, do you?

Well, one never knows.

Posted by Alan at 14:26 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 28 April 2005 20:11 PDT home

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