Fox and His Friends

I’ve always thought the title of the FOXNews morning fluff show “Fox & Friends” was a little odd. Something about it was familiar but then again it seemed somehow syntactically off. Then I ran across the 1970 Rainer Werner Fassbinder film “Fox and His Friends” and I realized the image the show is attempting to elicit. Here’s the description from NetFlix:

Fox and His FriendsFox is an earnest circus worker who loses his job when his lover is arrested for tax fraud. Needing cash for his weekly lottery ticket, Fox lets himself be picked up by an elegant older man named Max. But when Fox wins big money in the lottery, Max’s friends suddenly become Fox’s “friends” … and before long, a charming man named Eugen seduces Fox and fleeces him of his newfound money.

George or Richard?

A message from my better half that might be applied to some situation today:

The audience will not recoil from this Richard, not at first, not until the body count starts to rise horrifically. And it is much easier to believe that this Richard achieved his royal status by popular acclaim, as other historical monsters have.

And, it is the story of the people who cheered Richard into power, complete with balloons and confetti, and later died for their credulousness.

— Barbara Moshofsky, reviewing the 1993 production of Oregon Shakespeare Company’s Richard III in Willamette Week.

THE Math: Jim Lehrer Rewrites History On Iraq

Two weeks before the 2006 elections, Karl Rove famously told an interviewer who asked him about polls showing likely Republican losses in Congress that the interviewer was wrong. He claimed that his non-public “polls on the individual races” showed a continued “Republican Senate and Republican House,” and that his prediction was accurate because he had “THE math.”

As we all know, Karl Rove was incorrect.

A similar mistake in adding up the numbers was made on 10 May by the Public Broadcasting Systems’s Jim Lehrer, host of The Newshour with Jim Lehrer, in an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Talking to The Media Report‘s Antony Funnell about Iraq, Lehrer was asked “whether sections of the media suspended their scepticism and their scrutiny prior, during and after the 2003 War.” Lehrer responded that the pre-war period “was not filled with the kind of ‘on the other hand’ information that such a monumental decision should have had with it.” The reason for that, he said, was that as a reporter “you’ve got to interview people, people have got to talk, you’ve got to have information.” Then he said this:

Remember, 85% of the Congress in the United States, including the Democrats, favoured this war. They (sic) were not that many people questioning the validity of this, particularly after that monumental appearance by Secretary of State, Colin Powell, before the United Nations Security Council.

That number is completely wrong. It implies that 15% of Congress (at most) opposed the war in Iraq. Unlike Karl Rove, however, Jim Lehrer was not attempting to predict the future, he was misreporting the past. His “information” on pre-war opposition to the use of force in Iraq is off by a factor of 2.

House Joint Resolution 114 — “A joint resolution to authorize the use of United States Armed Forces against Iraq” — passed in the US House of Representatives on 10 October 2002. The vote was 296 yea, 133 nay, with 3 not voting.

The US Senate voted on the resolution the next day. There, the vote was 77 yea, 23 nay.

296 + 133 + 3 = 432 Representatives (there were also three vacant seats). 432 Representatives + 100 Senators = 532 members of Congress total.

133 Representatives + 23 Senators voted against the Iraq war resolution. That’s a total of 156 members of Congress who did not support the war in the only real referendum on the matter.

156 members of Congress who voted nay divided by 532 members of Congress total = 0.293, or 29.3% who did not support the Iraq war resolution. If you try to add that to the 85% of Congress Lehrer claims supported the war, you get 114%. Perhaps Jim Lehrer’s uncovered some sort of Congressional voting fraud.

What is more likely, however, is that he’s simply stating the facts as he remembers them. Because it would look pretty stupid for a veteran journalist to have ignored nearly 30% of Congress during the run-up to the Iraq war, particularly when many of the concerns of those who voted against the war have been proven correct. Much better to pretend that they were such a minority that they could be dismissed as a few Bush-haters or hardcore pacifists unrepresentative of the people.

Of course, even there, Lehrer would have been grossly mistaken. A Pew Research Center/Council on Foreign Relations poll released on the day of the House vote said 28% of Americans opposed military action to end the rule of Saddam Hussein in Iraq (62% supported it, 10% were undecided).

28% of the public opposed military force. 29% of Congress voted against the use of military force. Yet somehow Jim Lehrer had a hard time finding those 156 members of Congress so that he could talk to people who opposed the war.

Not that I think it should have been that hard if it had been only 15%.

A NOTE: Lehrer mentioned that there wasn’t much questioning of the validity of the war, particularly after Colin Powell’s appearance at the UN, which some may feel gives him wiggle room here, but no vote was taken in Congress on the war after Powell’s speech, which took place just a month before the invasion of Iraq. As for the public, a Pew Research Center poll conducted after Powell’s UN speech found that 26% of those polled still opposed any military action in Iraq, and that even 23% of respondents supported an attack only on the condition that our major allies joined us. The number of people who said the US government had enough international support for the Iraq war at the time actually dropped from 41% to 34% after presentations by Powell and UN weapons inspector Hans Blix. 42% of people in the same poll said that they had not heard enough from opponents of the war.

The Eternal Broder

From Us & Them: How the Press Covered the 1972 Election by James M. Perry (Clarkson N. Potter, New York, 1973):

It was just as bad as we anticipated–McGovern took the District of Columbia and Massachusetts–and David Broder, our most famous political writer, tried to analyze what had happened.

“What Goldwater and McGovern had in common–and what defeated both, so resoundingly–was that in the course of their campaigns, the voters came to the same conclusion that political and journalistic Washington had previously reached: that they were lightweights in the heavyweight division of presidential politics. They were men of good heart and good spirit, open and honorable, whose failing was their tendency to see public questions in one-dimensional, almost simplistic terms.”

McGovern read the column and sat down to write Broder a letter in longhand.

“Bullshit,” he said.

The Easy Way Out Was to Vote for That War And Look the Other Way

Illinois Senator Dick Durbin appeared on WNYC’s “On the Media” last week (the title’s a quote from Sen. Durbin), talking about how he and others who voted against the Iraq war resolution have repeatedly made statements about the administration’s lack of evidence in their case for war, both since the war began and before the vote on the authorization to use military force. He mentioned to host Bob Garfield that it’s only his most recent speech on the floor of the Senate that’s garnered attention, via The Washington Times in a sleazy attempt to portray him as having kept quiet on the matter, and that when he and the 22 other Senators who voted against the war did speak out contemporaneously, they were “…not greeted as heroes when we went home. Many of us paid a price for it. In fact some may have lost an election over it.”

There is no doubt that the (mostly) Democrats who voted against the war have been vilified by Republicans and often marginalized by war hawks in their own party, but as much as it may have felt like the world was against them, as I’ve pointed out before, the Democrats in the Senate who voted against the Iraq war haven’t lost a seat because of an election in the three cycles since the vote. Here’s the list of Senators who were smart enough not to be fooled by George Bush.

Daniel Akaka (HI) reelected 2006
Jeff Bingaman (NM) reelected 2006
Barbara Boxer (CA) reelected 2004
Robert Byrd (WV) reelected 2006
Kent Conrad (ND) reelected 2006
Jon Corzine (NJ) elected Governor 2005; succeeded by Robert Menendez (Democrat)
Mark Dayton (MN) retired 2006; succeeded by Amy Klobuchar (Democrat)
Dick Durbin (IL) reelected 2002
Russ Feingold (WI) reelected 2004
Bob Graham (FL) ran for president, did not run for reelection 2004; succeeded by Mel Martinez (Republican)
Daniel Inouye (HI) reelected 2004
Ted Kennedy (MA) reelected 2006
Patrick Leahy (VT) reelected 2004
Carl Levin (MI) reelected 2002
Barbara Mikulski (MD) reelected 2004
Patty Murray (WA) reelected 2004
Jack Reed (RI) reelected 2002
Paul Sarbanes (MD) retired 2006; succeeded by Ben Cardin (Democrat)
Debbie Stabenow (MI) reelected 2006
Paul Wellstone (MN) died in plane accident between vote and 2002 election; succeeded by Norm Coleman (Republican)
Ron Wyden (OR) reelected 2004
Lincoln Chafee (RI) defeated 2006; succeeded by Sheldon Whitehouse (Democrat)
Jim Jeffords (VT) retired 2006; succeeded by Bernie Sanders (Independent)

Wellstone did lose an election, but was dead. Since the tragic crash that killed him also killed his wife (and others, including his daughter) there wasn’t even the possibility for something like what took place in 2000 when Mel Carnahan posthumously unseated Sen. John Ashcroft of Missouri, with Carnahan’s wife Jean taking over the seat (Sen. Carnahan voted for the Iraq AUMF and was defeated in 2006 by Republican Jim Talent).

The only other case where a Democrat who voted against the Iraq war lost an election was in the Democratic primaries. Bob Graham didn’t try to simultaneously run for president and senator. Republican Lincoln Chaffee did lose an election, but not because he opposed the war.

It’s a shame none of the Democratic Senators running for president this year are off this list.

My Satanic Majesty

My first real job was working for a bookstore in Eugene called Gandalf’s Den Fantasy Gallery that also sold wargames and role-playing games.

Almost exactly a quarter-century ago — in the summer of 1982 — the children’s librarian at the Springfield Public Library contacted the store to see if they had anyone who might be interested in talking to the kids at the library about Dungeons & Dragons, which was at the time still less than a decade old. The owner and his wife delegated me to do the presentation, which was unsurprising, since I was the only employee at the store.

A few weeks after I’d agreed to make the appearance, I got a call from the librarian. She told me that a “youth pastor” at a local church had an objection to the topic and that they were threatening to picket and make a fuss at the library unless they were given a chance to speak out about the evils of D&D. And they insisted on making their statements before my presentation. The head librarian apparently had acceded to their demands, the only option I had was to not give the talk. I was 20, I was stupid, I decided to go ahead.




When I showed up for the talk, there were a dozen or so ten to thirteen-year-old boys — the upper age range of just the kind of kids you expect to find at the children’s library on a sunny summer afternoon — and what seemed like a score of members of the church group, including the pastor, a couple of adults, and a number of teenagers (including the only girls in attendence). Not to mention the children’s librarian, the head librarian, and some news media.

The pastor gave a very stirring speech about how the D&D led to all sorts of Satanic rituals and how you had to spend thousands of dollars on suits of armor and how it corrupted your soul. He went on for what seemed like a half hour. Much fidgeting took place.

I finally got to speak and gave my little dog and pony show about D&D and role-playing games, and other types of games. The photo shows Champions (superhero RPG), Bushido (feudal Japanese RPG), D&D, The Morrow Project (post-nuclear holocaust RPG), and GANGLORD (my own play-by-mail gang warfare game), as well as a couple of others I can’t make out (not to mention my friend and moral support for the event, Tom Stansfield, leaning on the podium). I talked about how there was no way I could have afforded to spend thousands of dollars on armor, how as an athiest I could hardly be a Satanist as well, that I didn’t know any nor did I believe in magic, and how I viewed the whole spectrum of games as just a way to enjoy the company of other people. I answered questions about games from the kids, was asked by the church teens if athiesm wasn’t just the same as Satanism, and tried to keep myself on an even keel when I felt very much outnumbered.

I don’t know if it was planning or sheer dumb luck that made me put on the shirt my folks had brought back from the National Zoo. Despite the wild hair, the beard, and maniacal smile, I think it might have been difficult for some of the kids to seriously consider me as some sort of threat to all that was good with panda bears on my chest.

I have a very nice letter from D&D creator E. Gary Gygax offering his support about the incident.

Party Like It’s 1994

I spent a good portion of the afternoon ripping up old Director manuals for recycling. I’ve finally come to the conclusion that I just don’t need to keep them in boxes in my garage any more. Director MX manuals…gone. Director 8.5 manuals…gone. Director 8 manuals…gone. Same for version 7, 6 (I never bought the 6.5 upgrade), 5 and 4. Plus a bunch of Flash manuals, old books on Perl, UNIX, VBScript, and ActionScript.

What was kind of surprising to me was how thin some of those Lingo Dictionary volumes were. Director 7’s LD was about 300 pages. And the dates in them! It’s hard to remember, but there was a period in the late 1990s when it seems like versions of Director virtually flew by!

Anyway, one of the boxes held this little treasure, my badge from my very first Macromedia User Conference, in September 1994, held at the San Francisco Marriott.

The New Republic On Propaganda

There is a term for this sort of political discourse: propaganda. The word has a bad odor, but it is not necessarily a bad thing. Propaganda is often true, and it can be deployed on behalf of a worthy cause (say, the fight against Nazism in World War II). Still, propaganda should not be confused with intellectual inquiry. Propagandists do not follow their logic wherever it may lead them; they are not interested in originality. Propaganda is an attempt to marshal arguments in order to create a specific real-world result–to win a political war.

— Jonathan Chait, The New Republic, 1 May 2007

As anyone writing for The New Republic should know, you can use propaganda to demonize those you view as the enemy. Literally.

Remember October 9

In a speech on 9 October 1968, Richard Nixon said something about Hubert Humphrey, his opponent for president that seems appropriate for today, the fourth anniversary of “Mission Accomplished”:

Those who have had a chance for four years and could not produce peace should not be given another chance.

In 1972, the McGovern campaign printed signs and bumper stickers that read: “Remember October 9”.