February 2004
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Day February 18, 2004

Just how significant was the outrage over Janet Jackson and the Superbowl?

To date, the FCC has apparently received more than 200,000 complaints about the Superbowl halftime show.  That’s fairly unprecedented, given that the FCC apparently got 240,000 complaints about 375 different programs last year. Combined.  Many groups, like Concerned Women for America, would like us to believe that this represents a ground swell of nationwide outrage and activism about obscenity on television.

But let’s break it down.  Some 89 million people watched the Superbowl, and 200,000 complaints were received.  Hmm.  (sounds of calculator buttons in the background).  OK.  Twenty-two one-hundredths of one percent of viewers complained.  Or put the other way around, 99.9978% of Superbowl viewers didn’t feel motivated to complain about Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction.”  I had to extend the calculation out to four decimal places, otherwise rounding error would lead me to conclude that nobody was bothered by the event.      

Numbers are fun, aren’t they?

San Francisco’s Marriage Frenzy and our “Declining Moral Fiber”

I promise to stop commenting on San Francisco’s frenzy of same-sex marriages at some point.  

Here’s what set me off today.  Dave Gibson, writing about Newsom in American Daily, says:  “With the moral fiber of this country unraveling at an ever alarming rate, it is not surprising that so many people seem to find this event as “no big deal.”  Well, like many, I think this is a big deal, although I suspect not in a way that Mr. Gibson would approve.  Regardless, it’s interesting to note that whatever the result of this week’s events in San Francisco, it hasn’t yet caused the city to slide into the sea, people to turn into pillars of salt, or a plague of locusts.  Check for yourself.  Looks pretty normal to me…

What mostly interests me is this notion of declining moral fiber.  I’m guessing that we’re not the first generation where half the population has complained that the other half is destroying their society’s moral fiber.  I’d be interested in the history of this notion, because I suspect it goes back quite a ways.  Temperance, Victorian England, Salem witch trials….

Like a number of writers this week, however, I find it oddly inconsistent to see the Religious Right oppose same-sex marriage on the basis that traditional concepts of marriage safeguard our families and children, while ignoring the effects of divorce.  Given its effect on the traditional nuclear family, isn’t divorce even more of a contributor to our declining moral fiber?  Shouldn’t the Religious Right do something about divorce, too? Well, it turns out they are…

What I Don’t Understand About a Proposed Palestinian State

Here’s what I don’t understand about a proposed “two-state” solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  All variants of a “two-state” solution (that I’ve seen) end up creating a Palestinian state out of discontiguous territories.  And I’m not just talking about Gaza and portions of the West Bank.  Within the West Bank itself, the territories proposed for “sovereign control” by a Palestinian state are discontiguous, unless Israeli settlements are removed from the West Bank much more fully than is currently proposed.

So here’s what I don’t get:  why does virtually none of the discussion surrounding a “two-state” plan address the insanely difficult infrastructural problems this will create?  I’m no expert, either on the Middle East or on urban planning and engineering, but even I can figure out how difficult it’ll be.  How do the Palestinians create water and sewer systems, electricity, phone systems, and other needed infrastructure, if every system has to cross the territory of another country to link up the discontiguous areas?  

Surely, you’d say, the Israelis would cooperate in allowing the Palestinians to run pipelines, electrical transmission lines, fiber-optic cable, and so on, between their territorial chunks.  But why would they?  Once the Palestinian state is independent from Israel, it’s not like the Israelis are going to spend tax dollars to help maintain such an infrastructure, and it’s not like the animosity is going to go away just because they manage to somehow partition into two states.  Especially if one of the two states isn’t able to function, provide services to its citizens, or effectively defend its territorial “chunklets.”

So I don’t get it, unless the answer is that the “two-state” solution isn’t meant to work in the first place, or unless the Palestinian Authority has just decided that a crippled, unworkable country is better than none at all.  After reading Edward Said’s interviews with David Barsamian in Culture and Resistance, I just keep looking at the maps and wondering how anyone thinks this is a real solution.  


Howard Dean — In the race? Out? Put us out of our misery!

After his whuppin’ in Wisconsin yesterday, we’ve heard contradictory reports about whether Dean intends to continue.  Last night, I read that Dean was going to fight onward to the March 2nd primaries, but this morning I’m reading a “Democratic source” that says Dean will pull out of the race today.  I’m sorry, but it’s about time.  We’re wasting time and ink over Howard Dean, when we should be spending the next couple of months getting the entire party behind the front-runner.  Unless a miracle happens for Edwards on March 2nd, Kerry is going to be our nominee.  Everyone who isn’t happy about that simply needs to get over it and focus on how to beat Bush.  We need the party unified because the real battle is gaining the support of folks in Ohio and Arizona, which will be potential tipping points for winning this election.  Howard Dean ran a fascinating campaign, which we’ll talk about, post-mortem, and dissect for years to come, but he’s now a distraction from the real work.