NEW YEAR’S PROVOCATION

Here’s my plot of TV shows ranked by the effort it takes to watch them (keeping track of the plot, characters, etc.) and the payoff you get for your effort:

The x-axis is effort; the y-axis is payoff.

This is why I’d rather watch an episode of Law and Order than Mad Men.

A special problem I find with higher-effort, lower-payoff shows is that the lower-payoff makes it harder to pay attention and not start trying to bait celebrities over Twitter or whatever – but then that stops me from putting in the required effort, which then makes the show harder to appreciate…it’s a vicious cycle. We could call it “The Cycle of Mad Men.”

YOU KNOW YOU’RE NOT A TWITTER EXPERT WHEN…

Just saw Mary Matalin on CNN kvetching about Congress members using Twitter. It shouldn’t be used by politicians, she said, just by “kids telling their parents where to pick them up.”

Um, either Mary Matalin is very trusting, or she doesn’t understand what Twitter is. More evidence that you don’t need to know what you’re talking about to be on TV.

FIGHTING WORDS (“PAUL RYAN MOVED MY BROCCOLI” EDITION)

Paul Waldman: “…Politicians are allowed to say pretty much anything they want about their policies, no matter how dishonest, without reporters ever saying, “Hey, this guy’s lying over and over again about his policy proposals. What does that say about him? Is it possible he’s, you know, a liar?” But if that same politician should claim to have been first in his high school class, when he was actually third, the reporters will immediately say it “raises questions” about just what kind of guy he is.”

Tim Fernholz: “What that says to me is that the rich get steak, and the poor probably don’t get to eat at all for a few days. People complain about Bai’s failure to use research in his work, but letting Bush describe the plan that way without, apparently, checking into the numbers at all is a bit of professional malpractice.”

Jonathan Chait: “Getting a free pass time and time again because everybody knows your heart is in the right place is the sign of a man who has been fully embraced by the establishment.”

Matt Yglesias: “It seems to me that the 90 percent of members of congress who don’t claim to have a 70-year budget plan are the honest ones. For one thing, they’re not lying!”

FIGHTING WORDS

Adam Serwer: “So in the past day, the following things have been happened: The idea that there was outside pressure from the administration to close the case has been shown to have no evidentiary basis, the commission has been exposed as deliberately attempting to damage the administration with this investigation, and Adams’ claim that the Voting Section does not intervene on behalf of white voters has been proven conclusively false. This story should now be over. It won’t be, but it should.”

Eric Alterman:”The Journal editors warned against the “temptation…to settle for a lowest common denominator stimulus, for the sake of bipartisanship.” But this was only the beginning. “The transformed political landscape should also boost other Bush initiatives,” the editors argued. They went on to argue that Bush should use the attacks to demand more offshore oil drilling, greater authority to negotiate free trade agreements, the approval of all of Bush’s nominees to various offices and a whole host of things that had nothing whatever to do with protecting America from terrorism. Meanwhile, eight years later, with a new president, one could find the editors making an almost perfectly contrary argument.”

Chris Hayes: “This all seems eerily familiar. The conversation—if it can be called that—about deficits recalls the national conversation about war in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. From one day to the next, what was once accepted by the establishment as tolerable—Saddam Hussein—became intolerable, a crisis of such pressing urgency that “serious people” were required to present their ideas about how to deal with it. Once the burden of proof shifted from those who favored war to those who opposed it, the argument was lost.”

THIS FILM IS NOT YET RATED

Saw the ’06 documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated over the weekend – it’s a great expose of how a secret ratings cabal privileges studio movies over indies, violence over sex, bloodless violence over violence with consequences, and straight couples over gay ones. It’s also a good example of how social conservatism (rule by enfranchised cultural groups) can happily co-exist with economic conservatism (rule by the rich). Check it out.

THE RIGHT FUSS: WHY ARE ANIMAL RIGHTS GROUPS FOR BANNING DEPICTIONS OF ANIMAL CRUELTY?

The most memorable video we watched in middle school showed the treatment of animals in the beauty industry. Students squirmed as they saw what happens to a rabbit’s eyes after lipstick has been shoved in them. Many kids covered their faces. Others protested having to watch.

It bothered me then, newly a vegetarian, to see students shielding themselves from confronting cruelty. But today it troubles me more to see animal rights advocates defending a law to banish images of cruelty entirely.

The federal law, Section 48, prohibits selling any “depiction of animal cruelty” across state lines. The Supreme Court is now considering whether the ban – targeted at violence fetish “crush” videos of people stomping animals, but far broader in scope – violates the First Amendment. Animal rights groups and the Obama administration are asking to Court to restore Section 48, which was overturned by 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, along with the conviction of Robert Stevens, who created and narrated dogfighting videos using others’ footage.  Stevens had been sentenced under Section 48 to three years in jail for making the films.  Michael Vick served one year less for running a dogfighting ring.

Continue reading

FIVE MOST MISOGYNIST SUPERBOWL ADS NOT FEATURING TIM TEBOW

“Honorable” Mention: Dove: Men + Care – This one got edged (barely) out of the misogyny top 5 because instead of going full-on essentialist it acknowledges that guys suffer from being socialized not to show the “sensitive side.” But you’ve still got the man saving the family from a bad tire while his ungrateful wife waits in the car – and the general “Life is harder cause you’re a man, but you triumph cause you’re a man” shtick.

#5: Dockers: Men Without Pants – What’s become of our society? If the men don’t “wear the pants” are we doomed to wander the fields forever? Have the trappings of modern civilization collapsed because of insufficiently dominant men, or have they just been abandoned?

#4: Mars’ Snickers: You’re Not You When You’re Hungry – Hunger makes young men play sports like old women. Get it?

#3: Bridgestone: Your Tires or Your Life – This time the wife gets thrown out of the car as bad-guy-bait so our protagonist can save his tires. “Man’s best friend” etc.

#2: FloTV: Injury Report – Like the pantless guys in the field, without the subtlety. A man who fails to boss his woman around enough might as well be wounded, or a woman (same thing?). Like the Moynihan Report, just less racist and more homophobic.

#1: Chrysler: Dodge Charger – The most interesting thing about this one is the way, like the Fight Club guy, it grafts a free spirit anti-corporate message onto a macho anti-woman one. Your wife is another boss, women crush men’s spirits etc. And don’t you want your wife to be civil to your mother?

CHOOSING THEIR WORDS

Over at the National Review, Ramesh Ponnuru is defending anti-choice folks against criticism for highlighting Tim Tebow’s mom’s choice not to have an abortion while pushing to take that choice away from her. I’ll grant that it’s not contradictory for someone to both want abortion to be made illegal and to like it when women who legally could have abortion choose not to. But it’s intentionally misleading for a movement seeking a ban on abortion to appeal to the electorate’s good feelings about choice by invoking individuals’ choices as an argument for prohibition. It’s especially cynical given that it’s the pro-choice movement that stands up for women threatened coercive abortion or sterilization by the government or their employer. I wrote more about this (in an exchange with my brother, who’s sadly hopped off the blog wagon) here and here.

As for Tim and Pam Tebow, apparently they share Focus on the Family’s belief that it should be illegal for women like Pam whose doctors advise them to terminate their pregnancy to choose to follow their doctors’ advice. So why won’t their ad say that? Why not say:

“I’m Tim Tebow, football great. I’ve been blessed with so much in life. I know my life itself is a blessing. Doctors in the Phillipines recommended my Mom abort me because of serious complications in pregnancy. Good thing abortion was illegal in the Phillipines. It should be illegal here in America too.”

I think Focus on the Family isn’t running an ad like that because they know the median American has discomfort about abortion but doesn’t want to see it banned. But what does Ramesh Ponnuru think is the explanation?

A CAVEAT OF YOUR CHOOSING

I am so sick of reading quotes like this:

I am pro-choice, but I must say that with the caveat that I have never had to make that decision, and I don’t know if it’s a decision I could make myself. It’s one of the hardest decisions any woman could ever have to make.

That’s Connecticut GOP Senate candidate Linda McMahon qualifying her self-description as “pro-choice” by adding that she herself might not choose an abortion if she had the choice. Guess it could be that she says “caveat” to distinguish herself from some abortion-happy pro-choice stereotype she doesn’t buy into herself. But the plain reading of her quote is that she’s not that pro-choice because she might choose against abortion. Which is bogus. Unfortunately, McMahon’s quote echoes the most common media frame on the abortion debate: pro-choicers pushing abortion across the board, anti-choicers pushing back against it, and women somewhere in the middle making hard choices. Meanwhile, back in reality, it’s pro-choicers who believe women should be able to make those sometimes hard choices at all. And when the government or the boss tries to force women not to give birth, it’s pro-choicers who have those women’s backs.

HISTORY: NOT OVER YET

I was surprised to see Ross Douthat, in commemorating the fall of the Berlin Wall, invoke Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History, a post-Cold War tract whose star has fallen somewhat since 9/11. Fukuyama argued that whereas the 20th century was marked by intellectual crisis between liberal democracy and its ideological competitors, fascism and communism, once the Soviet Union fell, only liberal democracy was left standing. Now, Fukuyama argued, there is no viable, transnational ideology remaining to compete with liberal democracy, which satisfies a human aspiration for freedom that the Cold War proved to be universal. Thus: the end of history. Liberal democracy is here to stay, and things will not get too much better or worse from here on out. Since his book came out, of course, Fukuyama has gotten slammed by critics on the right convinced that with the Islamist Menace, what we’re actually in is not the End of History a la Fukuyama, but the Clash of Civilizations a la Samuel Huntington.

The stronger critique of Huntington, I’d say, comes from the left. Fukuyama describes, in Douthat’s words,

the disappearance of any enduring, existential threat to liberal democracy and free-market capitalism.

Like Huntington, Douthat places “liberal democracy” and “free market capitalism” in the same breath. Like two syllables on Sesame Street that inch closer together until they become a single word. On a global scale, the ideological competitor to democracy – to one person, one vote, people’s meaningful exercise of voice over the decisions that impact their lives – is laissez-faire capitalism.

Thomas Frank’s One Market Under God offers a great (and very funny) exploration of how acts of consumerism get rebranded by elites as the new acts of citizenship and the market is christened as democratic. But markets are not democratic. And as Michael Moore reminds us with a confidential CitiGroup memo in his new movie, the people who the markets award the most power know this (as he says, the bottom 99% of the population “have 99% of the votes”).

Who will decide what happens to natural resources or public sector jobs in a third world country? The majority of the people who live there, or international elites with structural adjustment plans and threats of turmoil? Who will decide whether a group workers for a union? The majority of the people who work there, or managers that wield the power to harass and fire them?

Those questions will make history.

ELECTION PREDICTIONS FOR TOMORROW

Just for fun, here’s how I’d rank tomorrow’s banner elections in descending order of likelihood the good (or at least better) guys win:

New Jersey Governor (Corzine)
Maine LD 1020 (Keep Equal Marriage)
New York Congress (Owens)
Virginia Governor (Deeds)
New York Mayor (Thompson)

I’m guessing one of these five (Corzine) will turn out well. If two do, count me happy (not counting the safe Democratic House seat in CA). But whatever happens, I won’t conclude anything big about the national climate from it.