William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Schumer’s Fairness Doctrine fatuity

First listen to the appalling Chuck Schumer responding to a question about the proposed Fairness Doctrine (link from Unfair Doctrine):

Let’s summarize. He said:

  • I think we should all try to be fair and balanced, don’t you?
  • [Radio broadcasts]: It’s not like printing a broadside…Do you think we should allow people to put pornography on the air? Absolutely not.
  • The very same people who don’t want the Fairness Doctrine, want the FCC to limit pornography on the air.
  • But you can’t say “Government, Hands off” in one area to a commercial enterprise, “But you’re allowed to intervene in another.” That’s not consistent.

Schumer is treasure trove to people like me who are always on the lookout for examples of appallingly bad reasoning to use for teaching students logic. Almost any Schumer speech can be milked for at least one lesson—you could probably get half a semester from this bare minute.

Now, nobody knows what any new Fairness Doctrine might be since it is now in its “trial balloon” phase. But we can look to an earlier, abandoned incarnation of it for some clues. We can also glean hints from Schumer’s words.

Schumer thinks we should try to be “Fair & Balanced.” A fine thing, but not something that can be mandated. This is not a question of opinion or morality. For example, supposed on some matter the truth is A (where this is some argument or proposition about a decision we have to make). I set up a newspaper to tout A. Another group, unhappy with the reality of A, says “B is better because it shows we care.” But since A is true, it is absurd for me to publish anything else. It is even more absurd for the government to threaten me with criminal liability for my refusal to explain the merits of B.

Of course, we don’t often know the truth of some thing, but we can make a rational guess. It might be, conditional on some evidence, that A is nearly true, or more than likely true, and that every other alternative to A is less likely to be true. Again, it is absurd for me to publish anything else, and equally or more absurd for the government to intervene.

Can the government ban certain opinions from being published? The answer is yes. In certain circumstances, it is rational to proscribe behavior. Some examples: calls for armed insurrection, pleas for murder or other crimes, for sedition and so on. It is not only right the government should ban these, but it is its duty to do so. The exact limits of opinion that can and should be banned are, of course, unknown, and will be, in some cases, flexibly defined. But in no case does it make sense for the government to say, “Ok, make your plea for murdering the president, but you also have to allow Mr X 5 minutes to offer his counter opinion.” The ludicrousness of any such an argument is apparent. In short, either an idea is banned or it is allowable (a trivial tautology, but one that bears mentioning).

It does not follow that because the vast majority of Americans want to ban or limit pornography from being broadcast, that the government can ban, limit, or regulate any other opinion. Whether or not it is right to ban or limit certain opinions, or what constitutes the definition of those opinions, it does not follow—it is idiotic to propose—that the government should allow airing of the controversial opinion but then require the broadcaster provide time for counter opinions. If that were the case, then we could have a station air Deep Throat followed by a plea for proper dental hygiene.

Proper dental hygiene? Why not “The evils of pornography”? Why not, indeed. Now comes the easiest refutation of any implementation of a Fairness Doctrine. Suppose I say “A is true!” The government wants to say, “You may say A is true, but I mandate that you allow fair time for opponents of A. You shall also bear the expense of this.” Who are the legitimate opponents of A? Those that say B? C?, D, E, F…?

This is the meat of it, friends. Pay attention. In order to enforce any “Fairness” Doctrine, the government will be forced to define the opposite of A. Because, for any matter that is uncertain, there are an infinite or certainly an enormously huge number of alternatives to A. You cannot, in finite time, broadcast every alternative to A even if you wanted to. The only way to mandate broadcasting alternatives to A is by the government dictating—and dictating requires a dictator—what those alternatives are.

For example, in the earlier incarnation of this naked power grab, a prominent person who was “attacked” on the air was to be allowed time to offer his defense. What defines an “attack”? Does any negative opinion about the Great Leader in power constitute an “attack”? The Great Leader proposes a tax increase, and a broadcaster says, “This will negatively effect credit and so make it more difficult to get home loans.” Is this an “attack”? Who can say? The government wants to say. In fact, it must say.

There is no way around this fact: the government must get into the business of defining what an “attack” is, what are its limits, and so on. There is no alternative if you require a Fairness Doctrine. There must come into an existence an office to administer Fairness (I propose “Ministry of Truth”).

Of course, many, like Schumer, would like nothing better than to be in the business of defining what are the limits of opinion on political matters. The reason for this is obvious as it is odious.

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.

It is impossible for any Fairness Doctrine to be consonant with those words. It is not a debatable point: it is logically impossible. Unless, as Schumer and other advocates of the “living constitution” want to do, you change the meaning of the plain-English words “Congress shall make no law prohibiting the free exercise of the press.” They must interpret this to mean “Congress shall make no law prohibiting the free exercise of the press unless that law allows us to respond to people who hurt our feelings or otherwise pick on us, or that the speech printed or broadcast is hateful.” This is so absurd that I am shocked that anybody but an academic could ever think it.

Well, that’s enough. I’m already sick of this. There are no subtleties involved in this argument, not anywhere. To see these power-hungry politicians licking their chops over the possibilities due to them because of their recent electoral victory is truly frightening.

Sigh. I didn’t even get to the obvious logical absurdity in Schumer’s phrase “But you can’t say…” I’ll leave that for homework.

38 Comments

  1. Without doubt the First Amendment is in direct contradiction to the implementation of a Fairness Doctrine. However, that will hardly stop the thought police – e.g., Feingold/McCain Fairness Doctrine Part I.

  2. How would this work in this age of the Internet? The Authorities had a hard enough time keeping track of The Renegades way back when we had only small hand-operated printing presses.

    These days Political Thoughts pop up under all kinds of unexpected discussions; The Global Climate Crisis being an excellent example.

    Yes, Schumer, in my limited experience, is most skilled at logical Non Sequiturs. But, on the other hand, I’ve seen a lot of that recently. And the rates of occurrences seem to be well correlated with Political Activity; a very tight significance p is always obtained.

  3. Dr. Briggs,

    Obviously you do not understand the mysteries of the first ammentment. Go to thei inverview with Justice Breyer for an explanation.

    http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,234068,00.html

    Untill Justic Breyer explained it, I was so ignorant I didnt realize the first amendment ment the government was to level the playing field.

  4. Do you think that proponents of the fairness doctrine understanding that every story of Global Warming must be balanced with a story about how its a hoax?

    Or do they mean that the left must have equal time with the right, but not the other way around?

  5. I don’t think you so-called “logical” interpretation of the Constitution properly takes into account what it feels like for a single mother trying to get by in today’s world. And anyways, since some political viewpoints are much less successful than others in certain media, we’ll probably need a fairness doctrine to counter this effect for, say, the next 25 years or so.

  6. Briggs

    November 10, 2008 at 10:41 am

    Matt,

    Pretty good, pretty good.

    Ray,

    Breyer is seriously addled. May he retire soon.

  7. It seems to me that a very real subtext of reinstatement has been about conservative radio. To be honest, I never understood the Democratic Party’s bunched underoos in this case– to be honest, after listening to all of the talk radio options for 15 minutes I concluded I’d be better off with silence– but history has told us that political parties have always had a tenuous relationship with the press. If the press works for them, then it’s the fourth estate, it’s a necessary arm of democracy, blah blah blah.

    When the press works against them (by “them” I mean the party that has a bone to pick), then the press is “unfair” or worse. It’s a funny thing to me that anyone would even dream of a renewed Fairness Doctrine in an age where all it would do is further drive people from the mainstream sources and to the wild wooly world of the Internet, where regulation is nigh impossible. But then again, I think most people Schumer’s age (or older) can’t imagine a world where we get our news from things called “computers.” I personally think most of Washington is incredibly out of touch with my cohort in terms of where and how we get our news. Or… do anything.

    Personally, I think it’s no wonder that a lot of people I know, myself included, have simply turned off a lot of mainstream sources of “news.” I find CNN, FOX, and MSNBC all equally irritating. They amount to little more than blathering and time wasted. The whole “CNN is liberal! FOX is conservative!” ballyhooed debate doesn’t matter to me: I don’t turn on either one because neither one offers NEWS. Similarly, network news amounts to little more than car chases and stories about what’s going to maim me, kill me, or get my high schooler high behind my back.

    As always, I find most of this “debate” worthless to me, personally. I’ll continue to read The Economist on my computer and get what Bloomberg beams to my iPhone. I perhaps get less breadth, but I think I can do without knowing who famous person X slept with on Tuesday.

  8. I do not know the details of the proposed Fairness Doctrine, but if it is similar to the situation we have in England then I would be all in favour.

    Our broadcasters have to be fair and balanced on party political issues. I have never heard of anyone in this country who wants this situation to be changed. We have some outspoken talk radio hosts, and they can go on about issues as much as they like, as long as they do not actively promote any particular party or politician.

    Sky News is owned by the company controlled by Rupert Murdoch, but unlike Fox News, Sky has to be balanced in all its coverage of politics. This works extremely well, and there is absolutely no demand whatever from any part of the political spectrum to change this. We also do not allow the broadcast of political advertising, for which I am very grateful.

  9. What a great idea! Let’s trust it to government to make sure political reporting is “fair and balanced.” While we’re at it, let’s reconsider the old Sedition Act.

  10. Patrick,

    A ban on political advertising doesn’t always work out well in democracies. In Japan, you get obnoxious campaign vans that drive around cities blaring a message on a loud speaker instead of ads you can just mute. Japan’s strict campaign laws are a good example in my mind of “being careful what you wish for.”

    Also, “fairness” in media in any form worries me. Do we really need a special on how we didn’t land on the moon every time we talk about moon missions? Or about how vaccines cause autism?

    Actually, the latter one is probably the best argument against “fairness” in media. In my mind, “fairness” just means you “wikify” media. We all know that it will happen. So-called “fairness” will lead to insistence upon creationism crap being thrown up after a show on dinosaurs, moon conspiracy stupidity after a discussion on the Apollo missions, and vaccines —> autism hysteria will get easier play. Other issues that might get more easy air time:

    — gays destroying the very fabric of society through gayness (I mean, if we have Queer Eye, we need the opposite, no?)
    — reports on how non-whites are genetically inferior (hey, gotta be fair and show all sides, right?)
    — stories about how nuclear power will make your family into evil mutant beasts
    — etc. Let your imagination run wild!

    I’d like to think that it might even give people like me time to show that I’m not a raving lunatic mass-murderer because I play video games, but I know that will never happen. Not when every politician in America can use me as a scapegoat for every tragedy.

    Noblesse,

    Actually, there were several sedition acts, each one more fun than the last. It’s good to know that people who have enough wisdom to devise a functional government can be made completely stupid by politics.

    I also think it’s a bit of a stretch to say that the Fairness Doctrine is the logical next step, though. As misguided as the rules were, they didn’t criminalize any behavior. They just wasted time and left the door open for misuse of resources.

  11. Ari:
    Your argument is spot on.
    Patrick,
    You are quite wrong about what you say about Sky television, in fact, #Rupert Merdock is a very powerful man, arguably more powerful than our Prime minister or the American president in terms of gate-keeping the ‘truth’. I am concerned that anyone would see the man in such a light as you seem to.

    I had no idea they put pornography on the radio, what a hilarious thought! That cannot be true. Do they have a commentator? Sorry, I mean narrator, it’s art after all.
    I believe pornography refers to images by definition. (perhaps a get out for the radio stations!)

    Schumer dodges questions and splices sound bites together that do not flow.
    He was asked,
    “Are you a supporter of telling radio stations in America what content they should have in the radio station?”
    To which came the reply to a different question,
    ”Well I think we should all try and be fair and balanced, don’t you?”

    The interviewer should have said:
    “No I think we should all try and be outrageously unfair and always off balance”, don’t you?”
    If more interviewers tried this tactic, politicians would have to think about their arguments. Even pressing a politician with the same question again often yields the same disconnected answer. Like pressing the same button again on the PC, but harder!
    It’s a politician’s squirm, a can of worms.

    I admit, that I can’t exactly follow his argument as he seemed to be saying we ’must be fair’ but his argument seems to be saying that the radio is not like a broad sheet so must be treated differently. So shouldn’t we treat the radio and the broad sheets evenly too, as alternative media outlets?

    Seriously a ‘ministry of truth’ is a scary thing and it is about control and tyranny. Definitely would stifle creativity and generate resentment to put it mildly. Our current government has tried, with the help of the BBC, to tell us how to think, and how to feel about many issues. No longer do they report the news, but they tell us how to interpret their version of what actually happened. It is infuriating but has not gone unnoticed. Our broadcasting ombudsman Ofcom seems to do a good job by virtue of the fact that few seem to complain about Ofcom themselves; however, the BBC has divorced itself from their jurisdiction and self monitor their own fairness (by way of the BBC trust, in Scotland). The fox now guards the hen house.

    Ofcom’s recent treatment of the “Great Global Warming Swindle” was surprisingly fair considering the topic. …but this was channel four.
    I do also feel that the media, certainly in this country, has too much power by far, that has not been handed to them by a democratic process.
    When Blair was voted in the first time, one of the things he did was to have a meeting with media moguls. Not sure if this is normal practice,, but Obi-won will probably do the same.

  12. Can the government ban certain opinions from being published? The answer is yes. In certain circumstances, it is rational to proscribe behavior. Some examples: calls for armed insurrection, pleas for murder or other crimes, for sedition and so on.

    The Supreme Court disagrees with you. Calls for armed insurrection are legal unless there is a clear and present danger, and by “clear and present danger” they do not mean “likely to happen,” they mean “there is a mob and an agitator and if the agitator isn’t shut up in the next 2min. the mob will riot.” Barring this case, you are allowed to publish all the screeds against the government you like – as is right and proper in a free country.

    Of course, the government then turns around and gets hypocritical on calls to kill the president…

  13. Joy,

    There’s written pornography. Of course the definition is variable, but both Lawrence and Nabokov were attacked for their “pornographic works.” In any case, I’m sure there are a few people that would be upset to hear Lady Chatterly’s Lover read on the radio. My attitude, as always, is to let them turn it off, but hey, I’m just crazy like that. I mean, I’m offended by people who insult my intelligence (most media), and I turn it off. Doesn’t mean I can’t let other people enjoy it if they want to do so…

    Also, in regards to your concerns that media have too much power, I don’t think that’s the problem, per se. It’s not that the media has “power,” but that it has “influence”– a careful distinction.

    I am more bothered by the fact that media is increasingly consolidated that by the fact that it’s partisan. I sometimes think that I’d much rather have a thousand partisan hackery papers like in the 19th century than our current “Media Empire 1” versus “Media Empire 2” corporatist media. I say this, of course, as I read an AP feed on my iPhone.

    Note, everyone, that I have no problems with corporations per se. I have a problem with highly consolidated media competing over who can have the glitziest holographic reporters or the most squiggly lines during a presidential debate. We don’t get news from our media gods. We get soothsaying and car chases. Then again, what other people constantly ascribe to malice or partisanship I’m much more likely to ascribe to the quest for ratings and incompetence.

  14. Ari,

    Well if Lady Chatterly’s lover’ is porn then I’m French.
    Not sure it would constitute porn by today’s standards. This would mean that many rap songs and some heavy metal tracks would be porn, they are sometimes obscene.
    I’m guessing porn means something different over there.

    As for your part about impartiality of media outlets, yes, I would be happy if the BBC came out and said, ’we favour a left wing audience’ or rather, did not try to deny this. If one wants a right wing view in a newspaper, one knows which one to read and the same for left wing views. At least you know the underlying sentiments. That seems fair.
    It’s the ‘little Red Riding Hood’ pretence of fairness that I intensely dislike.
    As for my choice of word, power or influence, I stick to my word. Power is necessary before influence can be possible. The word ‘influence’ also implies an element of choice. Power can be used in many ways, one of which is to exert influence. Rupert M, in my opinion, uses all of his powers to maximum effect.

  15. Joy,

    Pornography is, and always has been, a highly variably defined word. I suspect that us Americans, bless our prudish hearts, are probably more conservative than the average person on the other side of the pond. Then again, this is a country where people where once aghast at a man’s… HIPS… MOVING… TO A BEAT!

    I suppose we’ll have to differ here over the semantics of “power” versus “influence.” How many great conflicts has the world seen over semantic differences? Anyway…

    My take on the media has, for a long while, been that we should drop the whole idea of an “impartial” media. It’s funny to me that The Economist, which openly admits its biases, also happens to be one of the better print sources in the English-speaking world.

  16. ALL the British print media admits its biases, which, in my book, frees it up to be a lot more informative in general than its American counterpart. (Of course, you have to read more than one paper to get fair perspective, but since both stories tend to be more in depth than the versions over here, it’s worth it…) So I second what Ari said – would be nice if our papers would just come clean and admit their biases and be done with it.

    That said, I think The Economist is something like the exception that proves the rule. Namely – I think they’re deceptive about what their bias is, and they’re actually a lot more hostile to free markets than they claim to be.

    But that’s neither here nor there. On the subject of what’s considered “decent,” I think an honest look at Britain might disabuse you of the notion that the US is automatically more prudish. Let’s not forget the “video nasties” era, when police were given broad powers to seize anything they so much as suspected of being in violation of the law (which itself was never made clear to anyone) right off the shelves of video stores. A large number of movies that have seen clear sailing here for years were only recently allowed to be shown uncut in the UK. Furthermore, I think you’ll find the restrictions on adult bookstores in the UK are much more draconian than they are here. The main complaint about US censorship from Europe, really, when you skip past the kneejerk anti-Americans and get to the substance, is that it has its priorities wrong. That is, sex is big-time taboo in the US in a way that it’s not necessarily in Europe, but violence always gets the green light. The criticism isn’t so much that we’re too hard on sex, but that we’re too easy on violence. Maybe.

  17. Joshua,

    I don’t find The Economist to be against free markets– I find it pragmatic. Of course “pragmatic” is a nice word because it can be used to mean “whatever I think is practical.” But I also think that the magazine takes a pretty liberal (in the economic sense) stance toward trade and globalization, but is less-than-dogmatic when it comes to domestic economic regimes. Of course it’s true that it only has three solutions to every problem: “privatisation, deregulation and liberalisation.” Hard to say that those three alone amount to functional markets…

    Decency is an interesting issue. I grew up playing Doom and Quake and all those wonderfully violent and gory video games. They are not, by any stretch of the imagination, everyone’s thing. My take on decency is, and probably always will be that as long as I’m not forced to experience it, then I don’t really care.

    Do I think that some gonzo porn is sick? Sure. But hey, as long as the “participants” did so willingly and the viewers watch it willingly, then it’s a thumbs up from me.

    Do I think that the “Saw” movies are gross? Sure. Same rules apply.

    But I do agree about the violence instead of sex thing. We are strange when it comes to that. I remember my mom getting horrified over the kinds of things you can do in Grand Theft Auto III but saying that the movie Eyes Wide Shut was fantastic. Not only did I not “get” that movie, I thought it was funny that the rather sexual tones in that didn’t phase her.

    Oh well.

  18. God help us in the USA. We have some of the stupidest people in the world leading us. They should be required to have an average IQ!

  19. Joshua:
    On the UK’s adult bookstores, which ones do you mean?

  20. Jae,

    IQ? Well heck, I’m sure plenty of atrocious leaders had high IQs. Jimmy Carter, for better or for worse, is an intelligent man. Didn’t make him a good president. Herbert Hoover is often listed as intelligent, but rarely ever considered a good president.

    And on the other hand, many great leaders probably wouldn’t do too well on traditional “IQ tests,” but have led their nations to greatness.

    No, the problem isn’t IQ. At least I don’t think so.

  21. I must say, in view of the bizarre ‘obscenity’ laws we have here in Britain, I find the notion that the US is more prudish a little strange.

    Perhaps, (and here is my theory on UK/US differences, folks), there are wider extremes commonly visible in the States, so you have the Amish, on one hand, and then the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence on the other. This is one of the great strengths of the US, IMO.

    As for the press, I haven’t been in the habit of reading newspapers for more than ten years (and am happier and calmer for it), but if I’m going to read one, I’ll go for the Financial Times. You know exactly where they’re coming from, and there’s no celebrity vomit to speak of.

    As for this guy Schumer – what a kn*b! I think that’s fair and balanced…

  22. Joy –

    Not living in the UK I obviously don’t have a list. I’m under the impression from reading on law that the Indecent Displays Act of 1981 effectively forbids any open displays of anything that might be deemed sexually offensive, and that as a result there are rather draconian regulations on what is allowed to be displayed where and how in adult bookstores. This isn’t to say that the US doesn’t have some pretty silly laws of its own on this front, of course, but I have the impression that the restrictions are stiffer in the UK. However, I admit that this comparison is probably difficult to make as local legislation on this matter varies quite a bit from place to place in the US. The overall point is that I don’t think Ari’s going to find much traction calling the US “prudish” in comparison to the UK. Both countries have some pretty strange and old-fashioned regulations on sexually explicit materials.

  23. I hate the way Schumer tries to equate censorship of “dirty” words with censorship of political ideas. There’s a world of difference.

  24. Joshua,

    I am more than willing to stand corrected. I will, as of this moment, submit that I am likely wrong until I find any reason to believe otherwise. Still, I think Americans– and this is based on my time here and abroad– have a prudish attitude toward sexuality in general. I admit to being far less experienced with Europeans (having lived mostly in the US and Japan), but my experience with the non-Japanese living in Japan was one where it was usually the Americans who were the most uptight about the differences in cultural attitudes toward the body and sexuality.

    For example, the Europeans were rarely bothered by the idea of the “onsen” (hot springs), but my experience was that Americans usually were; at least at first. Granted, I may be confusing separate issues. Comfort with one’s own body is not necessarily comfort with another’s body on display. Interesting issues, there, if you ask me.

    Again, though, anecdotal evidence should never be submitted as indicative of much– mea culpa.

  25. “In certain circumstances, it is rational to proscribe behavior. Some examples: calls for armed insurrection, pleas for murder or other crimes, for sedition and so on.”

    And yet Al “Che” Gore calls for civil disobedience and revolution in the name of combating “climate change.” Sedition is obviously in the eye of the beholder, and Big Brother has a jaundiced eye.

    And Schumer… Schumer is a dunce. He is living proof that a total moron can succeed in America, or in New York at any rate. So that’s a good thing, if you look at it right. We are the Land of Opportunity, even for dunces. Possibly, especially for dunces.

  26. Briggs

    November 11, 2008 at 5:54 am

    All,

    I’d like to offer an unpopular alternative explanation of Schumer’s consistent behavior. While he is saying stupid things, I do not think that he is stupid. Nobody can get to be and remain a United States Senator and be an idiot. Nor, my lefty friends, can one become and remain a United States President and be an idiot (nor a governor).

    I think, instead, Schumer is speaking like Matt did above. He knows the fundamental idea behind the FD is illogical, wrong, stupid. But he wants the power available through it because that will bring about a “higher good”, so he says whatever he thinks will work, whatever he thinks will cow or convince his critics. This is blatant, after all, in the name of the concept he is pushing: “Fairness Doctrine.”

    Ever since Reagan, the Left has been portraying anybody that doesn’t follow in lock step with them as “an idiot.” They do this so much that I think they actually now believe it. It is a foolish strategy because it makes them seem to be smug, condescending elitists. Which is why they haven’t done so well in the past few elections. Notice that almost nobody called McCain an idiot (they obviously did that for Palin, but I don’t think it helped them).

    Actually, I want to say a lot more about this. I’ll create a separate topic.

  27. Matt,

    I’ve tried to argue with friends, again and again, that Bush is not stupid. In fact, I think his history demonstrates that he was a very shrewd and effective politician. Regardless of whether or not his policies were good or bad, he demonstrated exceptional political acumen.

    Having spent time in DC and around the Capitol, though, I don’t believe the same can be said for every staffer…

  28. Ari –

    Actually, you may be right about Americans in general. My bone to pick is more with the comparison to the UK on that front. If it were a comparison with Sweden, then there’s no question Americans are more prudish. With the UK, I’m really not so sure.

    My time in Europe was spent in Germany, and my general impression was that they’re about as prudish as big-city Americans, though certainly less so than small-town Americans. In general, though, there’s a tendency in Germany to exaggerate any cultural differences with America, and this showed up a lot on sexual issues. For all the huff about how liberal it’s supposed to be over there, I just didn’t see it. More than that, there were large differences about what was acceptable country-by-country in Europe too, such that calling Americans “prudish” in general is likely to have missed the point. The people from the southern countries were all suprisingly traditional. I had a lot of my stereotypes exposed as such by Spanish and Italian friends.

    Watch “Eyes Wide Shut” again. I promise you, it is a great movie. 🙂

    My own opinions on the sex and violence issue are basically the same as yours. Whatever people want to do on sex is fine as long as it’s consensual and done in private. And America could stand to be a little less violent on the whole, though I definitely do not favor government intervention to regulate the content of cinema or television.

    As for “onsen” in Japan – I was in Japan for a long time myself, and while you may be right about Americans in “onsen” (I don’t know, having only ever been in them with Hungarians and Japanese), my own experience with them was that there was a strange lack of 20-something Japanese there too. Everyone was always either retired or with children – i.e. people wthout a horse in the sex race. Maybe just a coincidence.

  29. Please excuse my smugness. Perhaps Schumer is not a dunce, but consistently illogical. On purpose. And that purpose is?

    Which is the worse insult? To be called a dunce or a power-mad authoritarian whose modus operandi is illogical jabber?

    I guess I have little respect for the intelligentsia of this country. Too many of the intellectual elite seem to me to be either foolish or, as you maintain, exceedingly devious. Neither case strikes me as truly intelligent.

  30. Briggs

    November 12, 2008 at 6:13 am

    Mike,

    I agree that it is a far worse insult to be called evil rather than stupid.

    Many in the so-called intelligentsia have native synaptical talents, but they squander these in trying to prove theories they want to be true rather than those that are true. It is their failure to recognize this that makes them foolish.

  31. Joshua,
    It is not a competition to find who is the most prudish.
    If it were, I would be happy if our country came top Not because I frown on porn but it might say that we were well behaved, that’s how I’d view it, take it as a compliment.
    The comment was that Lady Chatterley is not porn although when the book hit the shops many women, in England, rushed to the shops to buy a copy in the expectation from the hype, that it was. Many were shocked by it’s content but that’s why they bought it, (my Mum borrowed her copy, how discrete.)
    “Jude the Obscure” by Thomas Hardy also known as “Jude the Obscene” was said to be a naughty book when first published. I remember being underwhelmed and puzzled as to exactly where it was so. A famous reader/critic of the book was said to have shied the book across the room in disgust at his disappointment that the book did not live up to its reputation. That was a very long time ago.
    Today, Lady Chatterley would be considered tame by comparison with hundreds of films showing graphic scenes that are not classed as porn, even in the US.
    Where violence (and guns) are concerned, you know my views on that and they remain unchanged as noted by my last comment following our previous discussion. Violence is a fact of life but the subject should be handled with care when it comes to material that may affect or infect the minds of young or impressionable people. To hold the view that as long as I don’t have to see it then anything goes is misguided.
    It is also a separate issue from pornography and should be recognised as such. To combine the two is “arbitrary binning” to quote Mike D.

  32. Notice that almost nobody called McCain an idiot (they obviously did that for Palin, but I don’t think it helped them).

    Mr Briggs, whoever doesn’t know that Africa is a continent is not even an idiot, by my dictionary. Political politeness aside, I like when something that resembles, tastes and smells like a duck is called a duck. And yes, Palin is an idiot.

  33. Here in Holland the Blasphemy Law was scrapped two weeks ago, or rather it was replaced by an even vaguer law, in an attempt to stifle nasty remarks on religion, race and “sexual preference” ….

    An excerpt from one of my favorite sit-coms:

    Hacker: Don’t tell me about the press. I know exactly who reads the papers: the Daily Mirror is read by people who think they run the country; The Guardian is read by people who think they ought to run the country; The Times is read by people who actually do run the country; the Daily Mail is read by the wives of the people who run the country; the Financial Times is read by people who own the country; the Morning Star is read by people who think the country ought to be run by another country; and the The Daily Telegraph is read by people who think it is.

    Sir Humphrey: Prime Minister, what about the people who read The Sun?

    Bernard: Sun readers don’t care who runs the country, as long as she’s got big tits.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cxdMFRwztl4

  34. Briggs

    November 12, 2008 at 5:30 pm

    Harold,

    Hilarious. I also like “You Lied”, which was offered up afterward.

  35. Luis…Luis, I beg to differ with your assessment of Palin. No, she is not an idiot. She is a TOIDI. Hmmm, why do I get malicious pleasure from speaking ill of her!

  36. Briggs

    November 13, 2008 at 7:19 am

    Luis,

    You will have heard by now that the story that Palin didn’t know Africa was a continent was a hoax.

    Which should have been obvious. One of our main lessons is that you shouldn’t be too ready to believe what you want to be true.

  37. Joy-

    Quite right – not a competition. My point wasn’t to say which of the US or UK is ‘better’ in this area, but rather to counter what I think is a common American bias. A lot of Americans tend to think that on whatever (first world) comparison of ‘prudishness,’ America always comes out more conservative. The reality is a lot more complicated. Sure, compared to certain countries like Sweden, we are, but compared to others, like the UK, we’re not so much. I forget who said ‘Keep in mind that whatever is true about America, the opposite is also true,’ but it was sage advice. Many Americans are surprised to find just how harsh a lot of the anti-obscenity laws in Europe turn out to be – and also how frequently they are actually enforced. In general, I think blunt comparisons of national character are to be avoided. That isn’t to say that there aren’t differences of national character (it’s obvious to anyone who travels that there are, and that they matter), just that differences of national character are much more difficult to spell out than generally believed, and they almost never reduce to things like “x is more (adjective) than y.” More often it’s that x and y are both (adjective) to some unquantifiable degree, and that this tendency shows up differently in each, and to differing degrees applied to different objects.

    Interesting thing about ‘Lady Chatterly’s Lover.’ If I’m not mistaken, it was the first book brought up on charges under the UK’s 1959 obscenity law (the basis for modern law on the matter) and found NOT to be obscene by the courts. It was, of course, long in circulation by that time. I believe it was banned in the US on its original publication. I’m not sure when that ban was lifted (or why). I don’t have any confirmatory sources on any of this, however – just stuff I’ve heard.

  38. Joshua:
    It’s a given that any stereotypes have exceptions and are often unfairly acquired, outdated or missing context.. I happen to find them amusing, I am small-minded.
    We all have our imperfections. If there are cultural differences, which we know there are, then there must be behavioural differences as a consequence. Denmark is ‘worse’ than Sweden (hearsay from a Dane.) I love the Danes.
    Your reference to the UK in terms of a ubiquitous European is an American construct.
    As far as it is possible to ascertain, most European nations do not relate well to their European neighbours in temperament or behaviour so to lump all the countries together and try and make a case for a generic European ethos is wildly inaccurate. Only in the sense that they are ‘not American’ can they be said to have much in common.
    Try telling a Belgian that he has French culture and he will show you the door. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
    National pride is a fine thing whether you are from the Maldives, Russia or England. It’s what you do with it that’s dangerous. Joshua, I like Americans.

    For further information about British diplomacy, please see the link above to ‘Yes, Prime Minister’
    ‘British Diplomacy’ was also a great clip.
    “Fog in the Channel, Continent Isolated”

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