Anyone who picks up Bill Carter’s new book about last January’s late night TV debacle—The War for Late Night: When Leno Went Early and Television Went Crazy—looking for a villain is destined to be disappointed. This is not for lack of effort. The book is impressively comprehensive about NBC’s decision to move Jay Leno from The Tonight Show to primetime and back again and the disaster that followed. Carter gives detailed histories of and various perspectives on all the major players involved—Leno, Conan, Jeff Zucker, David Letterman, Jeff Gaspin, etc.—but in the end nobody comes off as an evil monster responsible for the train wreck. Instead, we get a fascinating example of how a bunch of people all acting with the best intentions can lead to the worst possible outcome.
“If they’d come in and shot everybody—I mean, it would have been people murdered. But at least it would have been a two-day story. I mean, yes, NBC could not have handled it worse, from 2004 onward.” —Jay Leno Continue reading »
Yesterday was Election Day, meaning a lot of people spent a lot of time talking about how important voting is. Voting is the cornerstone of democracy—it’s a cliché, but it’s true. And, as most of the Western world lives in a democracy, we hear a lot about the importance of voting. When President Obama went on The Daily Show last week, he made sure to remind viewers to vote in yesterday’s elections, and you can assuredly find countless celebrity videos and PSAs telling people to vote every November, or risk their corporeal demise.
It’s true that voting plays a significant role in our society, but that doesn’t make it good. There are plenty of things that are important but terrible: the Iraq War, cancer, the Tea Party, religion, the imperial conquests of the British Empire, terrorism, Dr. Luke’s contributions to pop music, infanticide, etc. Like all of these things, voting’s negative consequences so overwhelmingly exceed its positives that voting in democratic elections ought to be considered an immoral act. Continue reading »
“The deepest problems of modern life flow from the attempt of the individual to maintain the independence and individuality of his existence against the sovereign powers of society, against the weight of the historical heritage and the external culture and technique of life. This antagonism represents the most modern form of the conflict which primitive man must carry on with nature for his own bodily existence.”
–Georg Simmel, “The Metropolis and Mental Life”
“Everybody in town’s got their story to tell.”
“There’s just not enough time to hear them all.”
–Milhouse Van Houten and Bart Simpson, “22 Short Films about Springfield”
Viewed in and of itself, “22 Short Films about Springfield” isn’t the funniest episode of The Simpsons, or its most character-driven, and it certainly isn’t the best. In fact, it doesn’t even earn these titles among the five episodes that accompany it on Disc 4 of the Season Seven DVD.* It isn’t as funny as “Much Apu about Nothing,” and it lacks the frequently poignant characterization of “Summer of 4 Ft. 2” or “Homerpalooza.” But within the entirety of The Simpsons canon, “22 Short Films” stands out as a unique, and, I’d like to argue, uniquely necessary episode of the series. This is because “22 Short Films” is nothing short of a thoroughly Modernist foundation and legitimation of Springfield as a metropolitan setting.
*If I could only keep one of my DVDs, it would be this disc. It has “22 Short Films,” “Raging Abe Simpson and His Grumbling Grandson in ‘The Curse of the Flying Hellfish,’” “Much Apu about Nothing,” “Homerpalooza,” and “Summer of 4 Ft. 2.” It is amazing.
By this, I mean that the 23 minutes of “22 Short Films about Springfield” help establish, develop, contextualize, and yes, animate the world around the series’ eponymous family. And the manner in which it does this is steeped in what appears to be a distinctly Modernist tradition. My texts for backing up this assertion will be the episode itself (obvs), the aforereferenced “Metropolis and the Mental Life” by Georg Simmel, and two landmark Modernist novels: Alfred Döblin’s Berlin Alexanderplatz and definitive Modernist tome of them all, James Joyce’s Ulysses.
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This is the first part of a two-part reply to John’s critique of the First Amendment. The second part will run tomorrow.
John has two main arguments to support his proposition that the First Amendment is vastly overrated. First, he argues that the concept of a “right” is meaningless, and insofar as the First Amendment protects rights, it too lacks meaning. Second, John groups a bunch of arguments specific to the First Amendment together under the general proposition that the First Amendment is only about government neutrality towards speech, which can be deleterious. I will respond to these two arguments in two separate posts, addressing the rights argument in this first one.
John claims that the concept of a right is “an outdated modality,” “an autocratic fiat,” and “tremendously unhelpful” among other things.* John doesn’t formally define what a right is up front, and the closest he comes is when he calls rights “protections which you are entitled no matter what the consequences are.” This may be one effect of one having a right, but it is not a definition. A more precise definition would be helpful to prevent us from speaking past each other. Wesley Hohfeld, somewhat like John, was bothered by meaningless invocations of “rights” and sought to clarify exactly what a right actually was; he argued that rights and duties were correlative. If X has a right to do something, he is legally protected from interference by Y.** In other words Y has a correlative duty not to interfere with X’s right. So, if X has a right to speak freely, then Y has a correlative duty not to interfere with X’s speaking freely.
*If I were a right, I would be very offended. I would likely cry.
**Y being any other individual or the government.
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Now that Josh has concluded his eight month-long analysis of the Bill of Rights,* it’s time for we at NPI to finally face facts: The Bill of Rights as a whole is incredibly overrated. The Ninth and Tenth Amendments are glorified addenda, the Seventh is, as Josh said, dull, the Third has been pretty useless, and the Second is essentially gibberish. The entire document is in desperate need of a proofreader (seriously, the grammar in that thing is offensively ambiguous).
*And in depressingly anticlimactic fashion, I might add: Oh, the First Amendment is first and the Second is last? How original! Is he also going to write something about how rainbows are pretty and chocolate tastes good?
And yet the Bill of Rights remains incredibly popular. Demagogic political figures appeal to it for justification of any principle they want to espouse; citizens regard it with a scriptural sanctity even though polls show that most of them don’t know what it says. In other words, the Bill of Rights is basically the secular version of the Bible. And not much of that has to do with its proscription on troop-quartering.
You don’t have to be a constitutional scholar to know that the Bill of Rights’ reputation with the public is largely the result of the First Amendment, specifically the freedoms of speech and the press. And yet it is this part of the Bill of Rights that is the most overrated. Continue reading »
It’s been nearly eight months since we started our journey by placing the Second Amendment in its rightful place: last. The problems that plagued the Second Amendment—lack of clarity and dubious public policy justifications—are perhaps the greatest strengths of our first-place finisher,* the Fightin’ First! I present to you the First Amendment:
*Of course, its clarity and phenomenal public policy justifications are its strengths.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
The First Amendment is wide-reaching: It protects freedom of speech and of the press, freedom of assembly, and the right to petition. It also has the Establishment and Free Exercise clauses, which manage the relationship between religion and state. All these components have contributed to the First’s first-place finish, but what propels the First Amendment to the top of these rankings is its first and deservedly foremost freedoms of speech and press.
Freedom of speech and the press
The U.S. is unique among most countries in its seemingly unqualified* protection of freedom of speech and the press.** The European Convention on Human Rights provides for Freedom of Speech except when restrictions are necessary “for the protection of health or morals,” “for the protection of the reputation and rights of others,” and for other concerns like national security. In France, free speech may be limited “[if it is necessary] to respond to the abuse of this liberty, in the cases determined by the law.” Accordingly, in France, publicly denying the Holocaust and inciting racial hatred are not protected by free speech. In Germany, free speech may be limited “to protect personal honor” or “young persons.” England abides by the European Convention but has additional limitations, including the criminalization of the incitement of racial and religious hatred and ridiculously strict defamation laws. In India, freedom of speech may be limited “to protect the integrity of India” and for “decency and morality.” Some countries, like China, claim to protect freedom of speech but ignore their constitutions so blatantly that the words have little meaning.
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A specter is haunting America—the specter of the Tea Party. If you’ve read a newspaper, opened a magazine, or watched the news in the last few months or so, then you’ve likely heard already about how the Tea Party is the next great popular force in American politics. The Tea Party helped Massachusetts elect a Republican senator to replace Ted Kennedy; the Tea Party has helped thwart President Obama’s plan for health care reform; the Tea Party helped fan the rage at Obama’s counterterrorism policy that ultimately blocked Eric Holder’s plans to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in New York City. In short, the Tea Party has become the vessel for outrage and disillusionment with the government.
The fact that there is so much outrage and disillusionment, though, shouldn’t be surprising, given the current state of the economy and the look of the political landscape. Populism and indignity traditionally swell when the economy is bad and when people perceive broad change to be afoot. Well, America’s economic woes are no secret, and the current President is a black guy who got to office by promising sweeping change.
This formula has resulted in a situation in which seemingly every decision, action, or event garners some significant backlash or reaction. The populace is currently upset about virtually everything: a sagging economy, a cartoonishly ballooning deficit, two drawn-out wars, national security missteps, health care reform, the failure of health care reform, the bank bailouts, the auto bailouts, Bernie Madoff, and an apocalyptic amount of snow. Continue reading »
“Sometimes I think we’re the worst family in town.”
“Maybe we should move to a bigger community.”
“Dad, the sad truth is all families are like this.”
This short conversation among Homer, Marge, and Lisa Simpson is, in so much as the longest-running comedy series in television history has one, The Simpsons’ thesis statement. In fact, the episode from which it comes, “There’s No Disgrace Like Home,” is really the ideological start of the series: The Simpsons do everything possible in 22 minutes to distance themselves from television’s traditional family, exemplified by the Cleavers, Waltons, Bradys, and Cosbys—and represented in this episode by the family of an unnamed coworker.
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This is Part II of my overly nostalgic look at the 1999 NLCS. It focuses on Game 6–played 10 years ago today–and the aftermath of the series. You can find Part I here.
They say the beauty of baseball is that you don’t have days off. You’re supposed to forget what happened the day before and immediately move on, almost as if what happened the day before didn’t happen at all.
The beauty of the ’99 NLCS was that there was a day off. Between the elation of Game 5 and the first pitch of Game 6, I could wax poetically about how Game 5 could never be topped and then intrepidly ponder how the teams would top it in Games 6 and 7. In winning Games 4 and 5 in their final at-bat, the Mets did to Atlanta what had been done to them so many times by seizing victory from the edge of defeat. And now, winning twice more to take the series and complete the comeback didn’t only seem possible; it seemed likely. After all, the Mets had just won two! And we had our two best starters, Al Leiter and Rick Reed, slated to start the final two games of the series. I can’t overstate the confidence I had in Reed for a possible Game 7. Even though Reed would be facing Tom Glavine, who had tossed seven shutout innings in Game 3, I was 90 percent sure he’d outpitch him and we’d win. I suppose I approached it the same way Astros’ fans felt about Game 6 of the ’86 NLCS against the Mets with Mike Scott* in the hole: This was the deciding game. A win in Game 6, and we would go to—and probably win—the World Series. Everything was set up perfectly.
*I don’t know what prompted me to have this insane level of confidence in Reed. I mean, he was good. But Mike Scott in ’86 was unbeatable. And cheating. He was definitely, definitely cheating.
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This is Part I of a two-part retrospective on the 1999 National League Championship Series. Part II is available here.
Folks, I’m generally a temperate individual. My passions are not easily aroused, and most of the time when I employ hyperbole, I do so sarcastically.
This is not one of those times.
It is my completely subjective, admittedly objectively false belief that the greatest sporting event ever staged was the 1999 National League Championship Series between the Atlanta Braves and the New York Mets, which occurred 10 years ago this week.*
*Yesterday, in fact, marked the 10th anniversary of Game 5 of the 1999 NLCS, perhaps the greatest baseball game ever played.
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