Sunday, December 11, 2005

Sunday Reading

First Amendment Edition in a variety of spectra.

  • Several right-wing pundits have defended the Bush administration’s use of propaganda and paying for favorable press placement of stories in the Iraqi media by saying, “There’s nothing wrong with propaganda if it’s true.” Um… by its very definition — material disseminated by proselytizers of a doctrine — propaganda’s connection with the truth is tenuous at best. Frank Rich takes a look at how our current administration uses it…and can’t even get it right.

    Though the White House doesn’t know that its jig is up, everyone else does. Americans see that New Orleans is in as sorry shape today as it was under Brownie three months ago. The bipartisan 9/11 commissioners confirm that homeland security remains a pork pit. Condi Rice’s daily clarifications of her clarifications about American torture policies are contradicted by new reports of horrors before her latest circumlocutions leave her mouth. And the president’s latest Iraq speeches – most recently about the “success” stories of Najaf and Mosul – still don’t stand up to the most rudimentary fact checking.

    This is why the most revealing poll number in the Times/CBS survey released last week was Mr. Bush’s approval rating for the one area where things are going relatively well, the economy: 38 percent, only 2 points higher than his rating on Iraq. It’s a measure of the national cynicism bequeathed by the Bush culture that seeing anything, even falling prices at the pump, is no longer believing.

  • Nat Hentoff sees the First Amendment as the key to all the other rights that we cherish.

    During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus, which is called ”the Great Writ” in a constitutional democracy. It is the right of an imprisoned individual to go to a court and make the government prove the legality of his imprisonment. With that fundamental right suspended, there were military arrests of Americans who disagreed with President Lincoln about the Civil War and his conduct of it.

    In 1866, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a landmark decision, Ex parte Milligan, declared that what Lincoln had done, with the subsequent approval of Congress, had been unconstitutional because these military arrests, under the suspension of habeas corpus, had taken place while the civilian courts were still open.

    Said the Supreme Court: “The Constitution of the United States is a law for rulers and people, equally in war and peace, and covers with the shield of its protection all classes of men, at all times, and under all circumstances. The Government, within the Constitution, has all the powers granted to it, which are necessary to preserve its existence.”

    We Americans — to preserve why we are Americans — must remind any forgetful government that the Constitution cannot be put aside, especially in time of war, because what we are fighting to protect against lethal enemies is who we are in this world — a constitutional democracy.

  • So, what does Yogi Bear have to do with freedom of speech? Well, how about the freedom to borrow heavily from iconic characters?

    IN a courtroom scene from “The Simpsons” that has since entered into the television canon, an argument over the ownership of the animated characters Itchy and Scratchy rapidly escalates into an existential debate on the very nature of cartoons. “Animation is built on plagiarism!” declares the show’s hot-tempered cartoon-producer-within-a-cartoon, Roger Myers Jr. “You take away our right to steal ideas, where are they going to come from?”

    It’s hard to imagine here that the flesh-and-blood producers of “The Simpsons” weren’t pointing their fingers, squarely but affectionately, at the legendary animators William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, and their enduring ursine mascot, Yogi Bear. From his debut in 1958 on “The Huckleberry Hound Show,” Yogi never missed an opportunity to announce that he was smarter than the average bear. He seems to have outwitted a few copyright lawyers along the way: he took his moniker from the celebrated Yankees catcher, of course, and his tilted porkpie hat, his tie, his sonorous voice and his hipster mannerisms from Art Carney’s portrayal of Ed Norton on “The Honeymooners.” And didn’t his anthropomorphic, picnic basket-robbing, park-ranger-outwitting antics suggest the work of another popular cartoon studio, doc?


    If we’re really going to give credit where it’s due, then let’s acknowledge Hanna-Barbera for establishing a tradition of cultural homage that has shaped animation for the better. If nostalgic cartoonists had never borrowed from “Fritz the Cat,” there would be no “Ren & Stimpy Show”; without the Rankin-Bass and Charlie Brown Christmas specials, there would be no “South Park”; and without “The Flintstones,” “The Jetsons” and the countless other cartoons that it unapologetically cribs from, “The Simpsons” would cease to exist. And then there would be no reason for a lovingly crafted fantasy sequence in which that obvious Fred Flintstone stand-in, Homer Simpson, imagines that he is Yogi Bear. “I was having the most wonderful dream,” Homer says, waking up from his reverie. “I had a hat, a tie and no pants on.”

    As Fred Allen, the great radio wit who hated TV once said, “Imitation is the sincerest form of television.”

  • Allowing for shipping deadlines and traffic, today is my last desperate dash to get Christmas shopping done. Cover me…I’m goin’ in.