Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Rosanne Cash - North Country and Beyond

Rosanne Cash has recorded an album of covers, and for a short while, NPR has made it available on a "first listen" basis. I kept wanting to give up on her performance of Bob Dylan's "Girl From The North Country," but the gentleness of her delivery kept me in place. Lovely:



On the same album, Cash joins with Neko Case to perform "Satisfied Mind."

Happy Blasphemy Day!

Dear sweet Jebus in blue jeans! What, pray tell, is Blasphemy Day?

The objective of International Blasphemy Day is to open up all religious beliefs to the same level of free inquiry, discussion and criticism to which all other areas of academic interest are subjected.

Why September 30? The last day in September is the anniversary of the original publication of Danish cartoons in 2005 depicting the prophet Muhammad's face. Any visual depiction of Muhammad is considered a grave offence under Islamic law.
Sadly, we live in a world peopled with fanatics who consider "offenses against [insert religion]" to be of greater importance than the right to free speech. Such people are wrong, and this is a day to step back and remember that.

Put differently, Blasphemy Day is all about celebrating, manifesting, and effectuating the primacy of the following, better known enactments:
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.
For good or bad, the aspirations of the US Bill of Rights exceed their jurisdictional reach, so for those outside its range, there's this one:
Article 18. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Article 19. Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
Read the documents as closely as you may; you'll search in vain for exceptions to free expression for claims that the Bible, Koran, Torah, and other holy texts belong in the nearest toilet, that praying to god is exactly as sensible as praying to an expired old jar of cocktail sauce, that god is a tasteless joke played on the gullible, that your religion is a dumping ground of human longing, and that blasphemy is a victimless crime.

If you're so inclined, pick the holy books back out of the toilet, wipe off the residual scat, and revere them as you wish; do so with the sincerest expectation that your favorite god will favor you for doing so, but know that blasphemy is a human right to which each and every one of your emotional states -- delusions, wishes, outrage, pity, scorn -- is rightly and absolutely subordinate.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

"Rebellion (Lies)" in a Clarifying Fog

I have to admit that lolling around in a flu-hazed delirium is not without its advantages, one of those being the enjoyment of familiar music at odd mental angles. Hearing Arcade Fire's "Rebellion (Lies)" in this state has brought me around to the richness of its orchestration -- if you close your eyes and listen to the song emerge, develop, and build, it's easy to picture an old-fashioned conductor waving his hands at the front of the stage -- here the voices rise, there the strings come in, here the keyboard sequence comes to the fore, there the percussion draws back. Every player has a distinct part that feeds to a greater whole, and how often can you say that of "Rock Music"?

I say it's an exquisite piece of music whether it produces that mental image or not.

Arcade Fire, "Rebellion (Lies)":

Monday, September 28, 2009

Have You Seen This Virus?

Based on my symptoms -- in and out of fever, general weariness, body-wide soreness that tracks with the fever -- I know I have some kind of flu or flu-like bug.

Maybe it's the swine flu and maybe it isn't; even with both pairs of reading spectacles perched on my fevered brow, I can't find anything looking like the creature shown here (image from CDC), though the brute facts of how these kinds of viruses get around indicate there must be billions of them swirling around.

Here's what I do know: the few minutes I've sat here typing this scintillating blog post have taken just about all the spare life-energy I have at the moment, and that, together with the fact that I'm late on my second day in the recliner chair and yet not yet feeling "cabin fever" tells me that I have more illness to get through.

The New Face of the GOP?

This video runs just short of eight minutes, but I felt that I had learned everything I would ever learn from it by minute five. If I am wrong, and a scintillating insight comes out besplattered with chewing tobacco in those last few minutes, I'll be content never to find out.

How soon before this guy starts showing up on talk radio? Or has he already?



(via Pandagon)

Sunday, September 27, 2009

At last check, fever was 101.4 and the idea of getting up from this chair is unthinkable. The flu sucks ass - don't get it.

Rather suddenly, I am sick - fever, weakness, nausea. Did I mouth-kiss the wrong pig?

Saturday, September 26, 2009

A Confirmation


As I was rounding the golf course during today's training-for-nothing-in-particular 10.5-miler, I noticed something that -- so it dawned on me -- I had noticed many times before: the elderly men, by which I mean "greatest generation" men, that I passed along the trail met my passing with the same expression: a broad smile suggesting approval. Not quite pride, but nothing like envy either.

They see that I'm running by with effort and alacrity, and they like it.

This tells me I'm doing something right. I am using the strength I have while I have it, and they see this and know, from long experience, that this is the proper way to be alive. So I read their expression.

I do not mean to say that running is somehow equivalent with the service they self-report with the caps indicating the Navy ship on which they spent their war years. Whatever aches and disappointments I experience are nothing when set beside the hardships, trials, and losses they endured; nothing I achieve in running will ever belong in the same conversation as their triumphs.

No, I recognize that any such comparison is facile and stupid at best, so I want to make plain I am making a humbler one: I am seeing the wisdom of experience and age assuring me what I tell myself I already know, that our vigor will eventually fade, that "summer's lease hath too short a date," and that our endowments, honed and inborn, great and small, will never be more than what we make of them.

So I run.

(image source: photo gallery from 2009 Pints to Pasta 10k)

Friday, September 25, 2009

Ray Lewis - Way Past Good

Say it's 4th down with two yards to go for the home team with under a minute to play. You play middle linebacker for the team holding a five-point lead, and you're pretty good at what you do -- you're a professional at it, after all -- so when the play starts, you see that the left guard is pulling to his right and that other blockers are flowing that same direction. If you're really good, you'll keep your shoulder pads parallel with the line of scrimmage and flow in the same direction as the play, keep separation from or otherwise defeat any blocker who tries to impede you, and take a pursuit angle to collide with the ball carrier on his side of the imaginary first down marker. You don't want to have to make a solo tackle, that your teammates will be there to absorb other blockers and assist with the stop, but you're good at what you do, so you can handle that.

You see all of this because you're good at what you do, and you're sure you're going to assist in a game-saving play.

If you're linebacker Ray Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens, you're far better than good -- you're phenomenally, preternaturally, sublimely good. You recognize the play so quickly that you almost beat the ball carrier to the hand-off; and you take him down, end the play, and finish the game so rapidly and efficiently that all the world may justifiably wonder if you can somehow control time.

And you manage to make all of the above look easy:



Seriously, can Ray Lewis control time?

What Has Private Health Insurance Taught Us?

I am so glad we have level-headed bureaucrats from the always-efficient private sector to instruct us in the ways of the human condition:

In April, Rosalinda Miran-Ramirez awoke and found her shirt soaked in blood. Realizing that her “her left breast [was] bleeding from the nipple,” she rushed to the emergency room. Today, CBS-5 reports that this San Francisco Department of Public Health employee has had her claim denied because her insurance company, Blue Shield of California, didn’t consider her situation to be an “emergency.” Even though her doctor told her it was likely a tumor, Blue Shield said that Miran-Ramirez should have known it wasn’t ...
Of course she should have known this was not an emergency! People bleed from their nipples all the time, at least as often as they salivate, urinate, or sweat. To be human is to shed a quart of blood from the nipples every week or two -- this is why women wear bras and why men wear shirts. What kind of weak-willed, do-nothing, craven layabout doesn't already know this, and remind herself of it with each monthly check she writes to her health insurer?

I don't know who this sadly panicky person is, but if you ask me, shifting the ~$2,800 in medical services to her and away from her insurer should be only the beginning of an Important Life Lesson we cannot reinforce enough, namely, if you live in the United States of America, you should not get sick. You should avoid developing any troubling symptoms. You should refrain from experiencing health-threatening events of any sort. To accept the idea that you require medical attention is to betray a despicable weakness and a staggering defect of character that this nation, its accomplished people, its governing institutions, and its profit-oriented health insurers cannot afford and will not abide.

If you are well enough to form the thought of calling 9-1-1, this is proof enough that your condition is not serious, and that you should not inconvenience the authorities or -- above all! -- your insurer. Put the phone down and your chin up. Please keep the lines open for the unmentionable few in genuine, which is to say unconscious, distress.

Such Tangled Webs


The handsome devil pictured above is from the genus Pholcus, commonly known as "daddy long legs," and apart from the fact that it still has all eight legs attached and unbroken, closely resembles the spider I involved in a multi-species war yesterday -- a war whose depth I did not recognize.

Before I get into the details of the vicious skirmish I provoked, I cite the following background on the Pholcus spiders:

Certain species of these seemingly benign spiders invade webs of other spiders and eat the host, the eggs or the prey. In some cases the spider vibrates the web of other spiders, mimicking the struggle of trapped prey to lure the host of the web closer. Pholcids are natural predators of the Tegenaria ... It is this competition that helps keep Tegenaria populations in check, which may be advantageous to humans who live in regions with dense hobo spider populations.
It turns out that Pholcus spiders are, themselves, rather effective spider hunters. I was not aware of this; I had believed they do nothing but wander around the lower level of my house in unsettlingly large numbers and find ways to get their comically long legs broken off.

But back to the thrilling narrative: what's a Tegeneria, you ask? And who lives in regions dense with them? How does one tell a dense spider from a smart one? Tegeneria is another genus of spider, one that includes the above-mentioned Hobo spider, a nasty little beast that's quite common here in Cascadia. Whether the individuals are dense or not, they have a dangerous bite to go along with their fearsome appearance:


The third spider in the drama is a member of one of the many species of Orb-weaver spiders, who was doing what these spiders seemingly always do: sitting in her web expectantly, looking more or less bored and hungry, not unlike this one:

Several feet away from her web, my son and I noticed another Orb-weaver who had managed to entrap a bumblebee, and after chiding that spider over the decline in bee populations and the demand that every spider should be part of the solution rather than part of the problem, I had the brilliant idea of finding something to feed to the other spider. After gathering up a moth and failing to direct its flight into her web, and after scooping up a beetle and tossing it toward -- and through -- her web, I captured a hapless Pholcus, breaking off a few of its hyper-brittle legs, and introduced it to the much larger Orb-weaver.

It was not a fair fight, and therefore not much of a fight at all. Without even pausing to bite the Pholcus, the Orb-weaver quickly encased her opponent in webbing, bit her, then backed off to allow the venom to take effect. Seconds later, a gust of wind caused the web to vibrate a little, which the Orb-weaver interpreted as more struggling from her prey and responded with another bite-and-retreat. Once the Pholcus was either dead or thoroughly paralyzed, she performed a few minor repairs to the beetle-size hole in her web and then ate -- or rather drank -- the Pholcus.

As fascinating as all this was, I now realize that I fed an Orb-weaver in a way that needlessly foreshortened the life of a Pholcus, a Pholcus that might well have grown up to eat -- or rather drink -- a Hobo spider or two. If a Hobo spider climbs into my shoe and slays me, I will have no one to blame but that goddamn Pholcus spider for being in the wrong place at the wrong time -- why wasn't it already in my lower level scouting around for other, scarier spiders, leaving behind a trail of spindly severed legs? Why so easy to capture, and so game for a fight with a larger spider it should have known better than to take on? Obviously the fault is the dead spider's.

I suppose I could blame myself for precipitating prey-predator interactions that had no real business happening, but blaming oneself for one's misdeeds is a downer, not to mention deeply anti-American.

As you can see, this story really went nowhere, but it is true, and it gave me an opportunity to post photos of spiders.

Going forward, I shall be more respectful of Pholcus in view of their spider-hunting habits, and won't make fun of them quite as much when their legs fall off.

(Hobo spider image source; Pholcus image source - via; Orb-weaver spider image source)

Cosmos Remixed

Somehow, this works -- it's not really a satire, not really a serious piece of music, not really an instructional scientific video, not really an earnest attempt at inspiration, and yet it is all of that.



It goes to show that whatever includes Cosmos is good.

(via Portland Mercury)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Thomas Aquinas: No Shoulder-Shrugger

Karen Armstrong said the following in an interview with NPR's Terry Gross:

Thomas Aquinas in his great work the "Summa Theologica," he says yes, now here are some proofs to show that something brought something into existence when there could have been nothing. But then he pulls the rug out from under our feet and says, but we don't know what it is we've proved. All we've proved is the existence of a mystery. We have no idea what God is. And that's basically the way religion was left at the time.

Religion wasn't about answering questions that we could answer perfectly well by our powers of logos, of reason and science. Religion was helping us to deal with aspects of life, facts of life for which there are no easy answers.
This is spectacularly and flagrantly wrong.

Far from throwing up his hands and declaring the presence of "mystery," Aquinas arrived at a number of specific and definite conclusions about god in his lengthy theological works. Below is a partial listing of sub-headings of one section of one of the three main parts of the Summa Theologica; the titles alone suggest an author who believes himself very much in command of the material addressed, whatever its difficulties:
Question. 2 - OF THE MODE OF UNION OF THE WORD INCARNATE (TWELVE ARTICLES)

Question. 5 - OF THE PARTS OF HUMAN NATURE WHICH WERE ASSUMED (FOUR ARTICLES)

Question. 6 - OF THE ORDER OF ASSUMPTION (SIX ARTICLES)

Question. 7 - OF THE GRACE OF CHRIST AS AN INDIVIDUAL MAN (THIRTEEN ARTICLES)

Question. 9 - OF CHRIST'S KNOWLEDGE IN GENERAL (FOUR ARTICLES)

Question. 10 - OF THE BEATIFIC KNOWLEDGE OF CHRIST'S SOUL (FOUR ARTICLES)

Question. 11 - OF THE KNOWLEDGE IMPRINTED OR INFUSED IN THE SOUL OF CHRIST (SIX ARTICLES)

Question. 12 - OF THE ACQUIRED OR EMPIRIC KNOWLEDGE OF CHRIST'S SOUL (FOUR ARTICLES)

Question. 13 - OF THE POWER OF CHRIST'S SOUL (FOUR ARTICLES)

Question. 14 - OF THE DEFECTS OF BODY ASSUMED BY THE SON OF GOD (FOUR ARTICLES)

Question. 15 - OF THE DEFECTS OF SOUL ASSUMED BY CHRIST (TEN ARTICLES)

Question. 16 - OF THOSE THINGS WHICH ARE APPLICABLE TO CHRIST IN HIS BEING AND BECOMING (TWELVE ARTICLES)

Question. 20 - OF CHRIST'S SUBJECTION TO THE FATHER (TWO ARTICLES)

Question. 21 - OF CHRIST'S PRAYER (FOUR ARTICLES)

Question. 22 - OF THE PRIESTHOOD OF CHRIST (SIX ARTICLES)

Question. 24 - OF THE PREDESTINATION OF CHRIST (FOUR ARTICLES)

Question. 25 - OF THE ADORATION OF CHRIST (SIX ARTICLES)

Question. 27 - OF THE SANCTIFICATION OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN (SIX ARTICLES)

Question. 28 - OF THE VIRGINITY OF THE MOTHER OF GOD (FOUR ARTICLES)

Question. 29 - OF THE ESPOUSALS OF THE MOTHER OF GOD (TWO ARTICLES)

Question. 30 - OF THE ANNUNCIATION OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN (FOUR ARTICLES)

Question. 31 - OF THE MATTER FROM WHICH THE SAVIOUR'S BODY WAS CONCEIVED (EIGHT ARTICLES)

Question. 32 - OF THE ACTIVE PRINCIPLE IN CHRIST'S CONCEPTION (FOUR ARTICLES)

Question. 33 - OF THE MODE AND ORDER OF CHRIST'S CONCEPTION (FOUR ARTICLES)

Question. 34 - OF THE PERFECTION OF THE CHILD CONCEIVED (FOUR ARTICLES)

Question. 35 - OF CHRIST'S NATIVITY (EIGHT ARTICLES)

Question. 36 - OF THE MANIFESTATION OF THE NEWLY BORN CHRIST (EIGHT ARTICLES)

Question. 37 - OF CHRIST'S CIRCUMCISION, AND OF THE OTHER LEGAL OBSERVANCES ACCOMPLISHED IN REGARD TO THE CHILD CHRIST (FOUR ARTICLES)

Question. 38 - OF THE BAPTISM OF JOHN (SIX ARTICLES)

Question. 39 - OF THE BAPTIZING OF CHRIST (EIGHT ARTICLES)

Question. 40 - OF CHRIST'S MANNER OF LIFE (FOUR ARTICLES)

Question. 43 - OF THE MIRACLES WORKED BY CHRIST, IN GENERAL (FOUR ARTICLES)

Question. 44 - OF (CHRIST'S) MIRACLES CONSIDERED SPECIFICALLY (FOUR ARTICLES)

Question. 45 - OF CHRIST'S TRANSFIGURATION (FOUR ARTICLES)

Question. 46 - THE PASSION OF CHRIST (TWELVE ARTICLES)

Question. 47 - OF THE EFFICIENT CAUSE OF CHRIST'S PASSION (SIX ARTICLES)

Question. 48 - OF THE EFFICIENCY OF CHRIST'S PASSION (SIX ARTICLES)

Question. 49 - OF THE EFFECTS OF CHRIST'S PASSION (SIX ARTICLES)

Question. 50 - OF THE DEATH OF CHRIST (SIX ARTICLES)

Question. 51 - OF CHRIST'S BURIAL (FOUR ARTICLES)

Question. 52 - OF CHRIST'S DESCENT INTO HELL (EIGHT ARTICLES)

Question. 53 - OF CHRIST'S RESURRECTION (FOUR ARTICLES)

Question. 54 - OF THE QUALITY OF CHRIST RISING AGAIN (FOUR ARTICLES)

Question. 55 - OF THE MANIFESTATION OF THE RESURRECTION (SIX ARTICLES)

Question. 56 - OF THE CAUSALITY OF CHRIST'S RESURRECTION (TWO ARTICLES)

Question. 57 - OF THE ASCENSION OF CHRIST (SIX ARTICLES)

Question. 58 - OF CHRIST'S SITTING AT THE RIGHT HAND OF THE FATHER (FOUR ARTICLES)
Aquinas developed, elaborated, and defended a dizzying variety of firm idea of what god was, including but not limited to details of his birth, circumcision, life, movements, nature, death, and post-death travels.

Aquinas did draw a distinction between what could be known by reason versus what must be maintained by faith, but whatever the mode or means of conveyance, he arrived at a great many considered conclusions about "what god is." He was not befuddled; he was not one to shrug his shoulders at the limits of reason; nor did the Catholic Church canonize him for putting a quizzical look on his face and mumbling of "mysteries."

As he put the matter in the opening of the Summa Contra Gentiles:
It is one and the same function to embrace either of two contraries and to repel the other. Hence, as it is the function of the wise man to discuss truth, particularly of the first beginning, so it is his also to impugn the contrary error. Suitably therefore is the double function of the wise man displayed in the words above quoted from the Sapiential Book, namely, to study, and upon study to speak out the truth of God, which of all other is most properly called truth, and this is referred to in the words, My mouth shall discuss truth, and to impugn error contrary to truth, as referred to in the words, And my lips shall detest the ungodly.
Over the course of thousands and thousands of words, Aquinas developed a detailed theology -- the "truth of God, which of all other is properly called truth" -- that went far beyond Karen Armstrong's pet notion of apophatic shoulder-shrugging.

Looking over those works, for all their evident shortcomings, it's tempting to wonder at what so keen an intellect might have achieved under more hospitable, less god-addled circumstances. Looking over Karen Armstrong's slapdash twaddle, different and less flattering questions suggest themselves, e.g., why is no one laughing, who is buying her books, how stupid does she think people are, and so on.

That One Should Be Banned in China

The good news is that my precious, precious blog appears to be blocked in China, as is Russell Blackford's, and I wouldn't have it any other way -- China is run by a gang of rapacious thugs. The bad news is that the blockage appears to apply to all blogger dot com addresses, and indeed to blogger itself. China's filthy thugs are nothing if not stupidly arbitrarily sweeping in their misrule.

I am flattered, but not flattered nearly enough.

If your blog is not presently blocked by Chinese authorities, it seems you need to ask yourself whether you've been clear enough in saying they are a gang of rapacious thugs. Have you been?

Find out if you are blocked in China here. If you're not, isn't there a sharply-worded post you should be writing, one touching on the fact that legitimate governments don't ban web sites, and beyond that, observing that legitimate governments don't compile a dossier of human rights violations -- or I should say dossiers -- of such depth and breadth?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Tricks of the Mind

This sort of thing scares the crap out of me because (a) I have a child who is stepping out into the world more and more, and (b) I would fall for most of these. OK, I admit it -- (b) is the bigger source of worry:



That's all well and good, but what if the guy in the slowly-driving-by car is a professional photographer who is about to change your life for the better by "discovering" you as America's Next Top Child Model? As the years roll by, and you are working your unmolested butt off at the grill at Burger King, aren't you going to be tormented by thoughts of the lucrative child-modeling career that you so curtly denied yourself? Nay, the lucrative child-modeling career that launched you into starring roles on unwatchable situation comedies, direct-to-DVD feature films, and eventually, gigs as a renowned science popularizer? Hmm?

(via Portland Mercury)

Hood to Coast 2009: Video'd!

If you watch only seven Hood-to-Coast amateur videos this year, I hope you'll consider watching an eighth, and if so, maybe try this one capturing my team's experience, produced by Leg 5:


Watch 2009 Hood To Coast Relay Race in Sports  |  View More Free Videos Online at Veoh.com

Edited as it is, it captures the spirit of the experience well enough, but leaves out plenty too, including all the caustic and sassy commentary I recall speaking into the camera. I eagerly await the uncut edition featuring all the moments that will get us all barred from polite society -- an indictment of polite society if there ever was one.

Note: the stuff about a course record is a slight overstatement, though it's safe to say we came within 20 hours of the course record.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Who Will Think of the Health Insurance Executives?

This video asks all the important questions:

Kirk Cameron Balances Science with Bullshit

Not content with merely lowering the bar, Kirk Cameron, the actor best known for his true-to-life portrayals of people with the outlook of fresh-faced, deeply stupid children, has rented a backhoe:

Cameron says that he and like-minded activists plan to deliver 50,000 copies of an altered version of Darwin's [On the Origin of Species] to students at dozens of U.S. universities.

Cameron explains that this "very special" edition of the "Origin of Species" will include an introduction explaining "Adolf Hitler's undeniable connection" to the theory of evolution, and highlighting "Darwin's racism" and "his disdain for women." Cameron's edition also exposes the "many hoaxes" of evolutionary theory, while presenting a "balanced view of Creationism."
A genuinely "balanced view of creationism" would start with the fact that the available scientific evidence contradicts it, but by "balanced view" Kirk Cameron means what those of us in above-ground reality would call "bullshit."

As PZ Myers has already noted, the Richard Dawkins Foundation has already suggested a tactic for countering this idiocy -- basically, get a copy (or three) of this bullshit-enriched version of the book, and even better, donate a copy of the actual book Darwin wrote to the institution to which the bullshit edition was donated.

A Certain Ideological Movement


Matt Yglesias accounts for the data presented in this chart by reference to

[t]he presence of a major ideological movement in the United States of America dedicated to the dual propositions that taxes must never go up, and that government expenditures don’t need to relate to government revenue in any real way ...
Yglesias did not mention the two additional salient characteristics of this ideological movement, so I will mention them: it attained its political ascendancy with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 -- quite a few of its members still rather creepily pine for him to this day -- and the same ideological movement shrieks ceaselessly of its loathing of government indebtedness when Democrats are in power.

While I'm re-posting informative charts I found at Matt Yglesias's blog, this one falsifies the claim that George W. Bush's economic program, one grounded in the nostrums under discussion -- tax cuts forever, public spending without concern for debt -- worked for people:


Not so much.

In short, I call upon all nations to stop the unproductive poor. Now watch this drive!

Summer's Last - A Squeak's End

I am happy to report that with hours still to go before summer formally hands over the keys to fall -- precisely 5:18 ET / 2:18 PT today, or as wikipedia so disenchantingly puts the matter,

[a]t an equinox, the Sun is at one of two opposite points on the celestial sphere where the celestial equator (i.e. declination 0) and ecliptic intersect. These points of intersection are called equinoctial points: the vernal point and the autumnal point. By extension, the term equinox may denote an equinoctial point.

An equinox happens each year at two specific moments in time (rather than two whole days), when there is a location on the Earth's Equator where the centre of the Sun can be observed to be vertically overhead, occurring around March 20/21 and September 22/23 each year.
As I was saying before so rudely interrupted, I did my good deed for the summer: I shushed the screaming whine of a door in my workplace by use of the parsimonious handy-man's second favorite tool, WD-40, or as wikipedia charmlessly phrases it:
WD-40 is the trademark name of a water-displacing spray widely available in a variety of retail outlets. Developed in 1953 by [Anthony Byatt], founder of the Rocket Chemical Company, San Diego, California. It was originally designed to repel water and prevent corrosion,[1] and later was found to have numerous household uses. WD-40 stands for "Water Displacer - 40th Attempt".
As I was saying, I used some Water Displacer - 40th Attempt to kill the squeak in a door's hinge, so it is now a filthy lie to say I never did anything for anyone all summer long.

I could have submitted the lengthy TPS Reports necessary to summon the building maintenance team, but I wanted the squeak to stop before the next solstice, so I drew on my own personal store of Water Displacer - 40th Attempt and did the difficult but necessary work myself.

No more squeak. Barely more summer.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Don Draper: Moving Forward?

As part of an insightful overview of season two of Mad Men, Amanda Marcotte comments

[I]f you read the poem ["Meditations In An Emergency" by Frank O'Hara], you can see how the themes in it echo throughout the season, but especially in Don’s situation. Right off the bat you get some lines that, in the hands of the writers of “Mad Men”, become the paradox of Don’s situation:
Each time my heart is broken it makes me feel more adventurous
(and how the same names keep recurring on that interminable
list!), but one of these days there'll be nothing left with
which to venture forth.
He briefly considers reinventing himself again after his separation from Betty, but he finds that tying yourself to people means that reinvention isn’t as easy as it is when you are alone. The final lines of the poem describe to a T how Don, in an emergency, is able to “spit in/the lock and the knob turns,” and get back with his family.
A related paradox worth watching in Don's situation -- perhaps irony is the better word for it -- is the character's insistence on his credo -- "move forward" -- alongside his middling ability to successfully move forward in any meaningful way. At times we sense how intensely he wants to move forward, and to see himself as doing so, but over the span of season two, and well into season three, he moves very little from where we first found him: he continues to run the creative side of the same firm in the same line of business; he continues to struggle to stay within the box of marital fidelity; there is no discernible change to his circle of friends, associates, or interests. For all his gifts, all his ready answers, and all his outsized desires, he in fact goes nowhere.

Worse than that, he struggles more and more to resist the past. What he has left behind returns unbidden to him, as in the very first moments of the current season, when we find him alone in his kitchen, haunted by a scene from one of his abandoned selves -- the Moses-like circumstances of his own birth, or what may be more to the point, his vision of his beginnings that he evidently cannot flee, whatever his desire to move forward.

(via Lunar Obverse)

Care About Cats or People? Do Not Read This

The August 2009 Harper's (subscription req'd) includes several excerpts from

statements by men and women who attended Catholic Church-run state schools for the poor in Ireland, in a May report by a government-appointed commission. The 2,600-page report documents claims of abuse from more than a thousand former students at more than 200 institutions between the 1930s and the 1990s. The 2,600-page report documents claims of abuse from more than a thousand former students at more than 200 institutions between the 1930s and the 1990s.
The following is the last of the excerpts quoted in Harper's; I reproduce it here in hopes that by doing so I can somehow purge it from my thoughts. I have no genuine expectation that this will succeed, but wishing I had never read it is proving an utter failure. Read only if you dare:
I was an animal lover. There were wild cats and kittens going around starving, and I used to sneak them into the dormitory. I had a kitten. This nun called me one night. She said, “You see that kitten you have there?” She got me out of my bed by the hair and brought me down, they had one of those stoves that you put the coal in the top. She said, “Take that top off.” I had to go up on my knees. I had to put the cat in there and put the lid on it—and the screams. Then she said, “Go back to bed.” The next morning, she got me out of bed and she made me rake that fire out. I think I was about twelve at the time.
Whatever the cathartic value of revealing this staggering cruelty, it adds to Ophelia Benson's rejoinder to the notion that "compassion is the heart of every great religion."

The nuns who did these things lived swaddled in religious devotion under which they considered themselves brides to Jesus himself. If they were doing their faith a disservice with their savagery, their all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful celestial husband was curiously mum and inactive about it. The entity who declines to rouse himself in the face of these cruelties either does not exist or has nothing to do with compassion.

Writing is Dead. Long Live Writing!

Norm Geras picks up on Umberto Eco's lament of the bygone practice of handwriting. Eco:

The art of handwriting teaches us to control our hands and encourages hand-eye coordination ... [W]riting by hand obliges us to compose the phrase mentally before writing it down. Thanks to the resistance of pen and paper, it does make one slow down and think. Many writers, though accustomed to writing on the computer, would sometimes prefer even to impress letters on a clay tablet, just so they could think with greater calm.

It's true that kids will write more and more on computers and cellphones.
The latter observation finds confirmation in The Stanford Study of Writing:
The first thing she [the study's organizer, Andrea Lunsford] found is that young people today write far more than any generation before them. That's because so much socializing takes place online, and it almost always involves text. Of all the writing that the Stanford students did, a stunning 38 percent of it took place out of the classroom—life writing, as Lunsford calls it. Those Twitter updates and lists of 25 things about yourself add up.
Fair enough, but what about Eco's implied worry that more, faster writing is not the same as better, more thoughtful writing?
Lunsford's team found that the students were remarkably adept at what rhetoricians call kairos — assessing their audience and adapting their tone and technique to best get their point across. The modern world of online writing, particularly in chat and on discussion threads, is conversational and public, which makes it closer to the Greek tradition of argument than the asynchronous letter and essay writing of 50 years ago.
In light of the sad state of my own handwriting abilities -- the scratching I do now would appall my junior high self -- and of my son's halting progress in hand-eye coordination, I can see Eco's point that these trends stand to eliminate a specific form of elegance and mastery, but the gain in writing and in the art of writing seems a trade-off worth embracing.

Computerized keyboarding provides a quicker way to turn the bramble and rush of thought into sequences of words, after which the more important work of editing can begin. And as Norm Geras notes, much of this editing -- moving sentences and words around, for example -- is itself far less time-consuming thanks to these technologies.

To date, apart from most spelling errors and some grammatical errors, no technology has made the art of editing any easier, and this, to me, makes the current state of computer-enhanced writing an ideal instance of technology-driven productivity (in the broadest sense): the mechanical aspects of the task are simplified if not eliminated, leaving the person to focus on personality, style, reason, coherence, rhetoric, and everything else that counts as human engagement.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Bad Deliveries of Great Songs

It's for good reason that Michael Moore is not known for his singing, and yet even his lackluster delivery can't detract from the power of the song:



Here is one of many superior deliveries of the same sublime work.

Summa Contra Prius


Andrew Sullivan engages in a different form of apologetics:

From this month's Harper's Index: "Chance a U.S. household that owns a Prius also owns an SUV: 1 in 3." Ryan Sager is unsurprised:
It would surprise you, if you didn’t read this blog and already know that we’re constantly calculating the trade-off between being able to see ourselves as good people and the cost of engaging in all that non-advantageous goodness. Already own an SUV? Soothe your conscience with a hybrid. Already own a hybrid? You’ve been good! You deserve that SUV! Welcome to being human.
Sure, I could see that. It's also possible that such people have a Prius for everyday driving --- back and forth to the grocer, back and forth to work, etc. -- and an SUV for rarer situations where a larger, more off-road capable vehicle is needed -- when snow and ice are thick on the ground, for the camping trip in which you're carrying extra people and cargo, etc.

The latter hypothesis drops the armchair psychological twaddle and replaces it the admittedly dicey assumption that some people actually match vehicle characteristics with driving need.

Not that I'm against armchair psychologizing. Upon becoming a Prius owner, you soon become a smug asshole aware that you have entered an odd species of socio-philosophical-political argument -- odd for the conversational standards of the USA, I mean -- in which friends, family, neighbors, and even perfect strangers feel the need to argue against the Prius. I wouldn't try to count the number of people who have volunteered their explanation of why they did not buy a Prius the last time they bought a car, and it never sounds like the real explanation -- it's either that the Prius can't possibly meet their demanding off-road driving needs (the USA being so tragically underpaved), or that the Prius is too small for their three-person family (evidently these people are larger than they appear when not seen in my Prius's side mirrors), or that the Prius lacks the safety characteristics they would drive paralyzed in fear without (if we counted up every instance in which crash rating made the top five reasons for choosing car X over car Y in the minds of real-world car buyers, would it exceed the average Civil War veteran's post-war finger count?), or the Prius is actually bad for the environment under one or another exotic calculus (e.g., this or this).

And, therefore, for these reasons and similar reasons, they bought a Dodge Avenger or an Acura TSX instead. Their hands were tied.

Look, if you recently purchased a vehicle but it's not one of the most fuel-efficient models currently available for the kind of vehicle you need, you are chucking excess carbon into the atmosphere needlessly. Maybe you don't care. Maybe you care but not very much; maybe performance, style, status, or something else outranks your concern for carbon emissions. Fair enough. It's a free country, but I wouldn't be a smug asshole playing what I take to be my proper role in this Prius vs. Anti-Prius argument if I didn't say that your children and grandchildren will be ashamed of you.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Tune Out

The more I watch clips from 1970s television, the stronger the impression I get that the entire USA, and maybe the entire world, spent the entire time stoned out of their fucking minds. I don't remember it that way, but then again, I wouldn't necessarily remember ten straight years of being stoned, would I?

Watch this and try to disagree:



William Shatner will be William Shatner, but how about those song lyrics? Bernie Taupin marched right up to that microphone and admitted his role in writing them. Would anyone who hadn't spent several straight years stoned out of his fucking mind willingly do that? Let alone in those sunglasses?

If you don't want that to linger too long in your head, you could do worse than to listen to this recent live performance (MP3 download) by Yo La Tengo on NPR.

The Bible on Slavery: The Bottom Line

I understand the desire to whitewash the Bible's ugliness by use obfuscation and chaff because I understand, albeit without finding it reasonable, that people want to cling to cherished beliefs. Still, the fact is, inasmuch as we know him through the written works commonly attributed to him, the god of the Bible regulated, but did not forbid, slavery. This same god found it worthwhile to outlaw many things, and to do so clearly -- homosexuality, shellfish-eating, the wearing linen-wool mixes, cross-dressing, and much more. This god said these things clearly and much more besides, but could not be bothered to state a clear ban of slavery.

Christians and Jews and "Judeo-Christians" claim to love, and to be loved by, a god who condones slavery. This god condones slavery notwithstanding his alleged omniscience. Neat!

Cf.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Where the Ignorance Comes Sweeping Down the Plain

Update: The item below is the product of glibertarian dishonesty. It's bullshit, and I've posted a correction. Oh well, we had a good run ...




This approaches exceeding the limits of parody:
Last month OCPA commissioned a national research firm, Strategic Vision, to determine Oklahoma public high-school students' level of basic civic knowledge ... Ten questions, chosen at random, were drawn from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) item bank, which consists of 100 questions given to candidates for United States citizenship. The longstanding practice has been for candidates for citizenship to take a test on 10 of these items. A minimum of six correct answers is required to pass ... Oklahoma high-school students scored alarmingly low on the test, passing at a rate of only 2.8 percent. [emphasis mine]
Click to enlarge if you dare -- of 1,000 test-takers on the multiple-choice exam, not one student scored eight or more correct answers. Only twenty-eight received a passing score of at least six correct answers.

Twenty-eight. Yes, the twenty-eight -- the one that an elite few of us remember from such multiplication problems as 7 x 4, the same one that's slightly more than twenty-seven and slightly less than twenty-nine.

I'm conflicted. Even as I await a snopes.com-style correction, I also recall growing up in Oklahoma, where low everyday standards, academic and otherwise, create a hostile environment for parody.

The complete list of quiz questions is here.

Gay Marriage Has Failed

In this uncertain world, truer words than these of James Dobson are all too scarce:

"Dear Friends, I write to you today with a profound sense of concern...Barring a miracle, the family as it has been known for more than five millennia will crumble, presaging the fall of Western civilization itself.....

For more than 40 years, the homosexual activist movement has sought to implement a master plan that has had as its centerpiece the utter destruction of the family."
Indeed. Speaking as a low-ranking but slavishly devoted functionary of the gay equality struggle, I can confirm that the work of my life has been the utter destruction of The Traditional Family -- yours, mine, my neighbors', my friends', Ted Haggard's, David Vitter's, Larry Craig's, Santa Claus's, everyone's without exception.

Nor do I draw the line at our species -- I have made it my practice to separate puppy from bitch and kitten from cat whenever the opportunity presents itself.

It comes as sobering news, then, to find that our movement's savage plot to rend marriages, uproot children, and otherwise destroy The Traditional Family by legalizing same-sex marriage appears to be failing:
According to the most recent data from the National Center For Vital Statistics, Massachusetts retains the national title as the lowest divorce rate state, and the MA divorce rate is about where the US divorce rate was in 1940, prior to the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor that triggered the US entrance into World War Two ... [T]he Massachusetts divorce rate has dropped from 2.3 per thousand in 2007 down to about 2.0 per thousand for 2008.
Gay marriage is failing. For those of devoted to the elimination of all manifestations of family, it's back to the drawing boards.

(via Bouphonia)

Crazy for God

With recent polling showing that more than a third of New Jersey conservatives consider Barack Obama to be either certainly or maybe the anti-Christ, it is high time to listen to former fundamentalist Christian Frank Schaeffer, author of Crazy for God.

Very short version: American Christianists are unhinged from reality, and proudly so.

Short version: as linked above, the interview with Rachel Maddow.

The full version: Shaeffer's book; I can't claim to have read it yet, but on the strength of what I have heard so far, I would like to do so soon.

But back to New Jersey -- figuratively, thank goodness. Located well north of the Mason-Dixon, New Jersey is one of the bluest of states, and yet its self-labeled conservatives are, in numbers, in a state of bat-shit frenzy over President Obama, no doubt girding themselves for the moment of choice when he will command them to bear his mark as a condition of engaging in commerce.

That said, their enthusiasm for Biblical lore shows a curious blind spot for these words of the apostle Paul:

Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.
Their copy of the Bible evidently has a footnote to that passage saying "offer not valid in New Jersey" or something of the sort.

Being crazy for god is quite a way to be crazy. We delude ourselves about the seriousness and magnitude of this craziness at our peril.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Pavement Reuniting for Tour Dates. Yawn.


While I haven't done any direct size comparisons, I'm pretty sure I'm among the biggest fans of Pavement on the planet, nay the entire solar system. That being so, I am slightly surprised that I don't care about this news:

After years of speculation, the most important American band of the Nineties is returning to the stage with the lineup of Mark Ibold, Scott "Spiral Stairs" Kannberg, Stephen Malkmus, Bob Nastanovich and Steve West reuniting for dates around the world in 2010.
Yawn, sigh. I say that -- "yawn, sigh" -- in recognition that world-weariness is the mandatory response to this development, since we're talking about Pavement here, among the pioneers of world-weary, irony-laden, hyper-self-aware "indy"-ness that stamped The Music Trends of the 1990s with their own quasi-delightful and damnnear-distinct brand of tediousness. Will the band be selling nice t-shirts as part of this new tour? I might go if they sell nice t-shirts and promise not to play "Carrot Rope" -- and by that I mean promise not to play "Carrot Rope" in any live show, not just the live show I attend. I continue to receive no replies to my many written pleas to the members of the band to have "Carrot Rope" expunged from all future printings of Terror Twilight.

They should play "Spit on a Stranger," however, and "Grave Architecture" and "You Are a Light" and "Gold Soundz" and "Fight This Generation" -- definitely "Fight This Generation" -- and "Passat Dream" and "Range Life" and "Father to the Sister of a Thought" and so on. Just not "Carrot Rope" -- there is no t-shirt that can justify the abomination that is "Carrot Rope," recordings of which this precious, precious blog will never stoop to link to.

I adore Pavement; so much so, I'm hesitant to see them in a "we need to make some house payments" tour. I scoff at the very idea.

Shorter Makarios

Makarios on the Objectivity of Moral Values:

  • Morals are objective, not subject to people's reactions. Here's proof: when something wrong is done to you, you have a negative reaction in which you say the thing done to you was wrong.
The insights shorter-ized above were culled from the comments to the linked post.

'Shorter' concept lovingly borrowed from Sadly, No!

Poem of the Day: "When Forty Winters ..."

As if to defy the reality of my ever-narrowing tilt down the slide of another multiple-of-ten birthday, I hereby present one of Shakespeare's meditations on aging:

William Shakespeare, Sonnet #2.

When forty winters shall beseige thy brow,
And dig deep trenches in thy beauty's field,
Thy youth's proud livery, so gazed on now,
Will be a tatter'd weed, of small worth held:
Then being ask'd where all thy beauty lies,
Where all the treasure of thy lusty days,
To say, within thine own deep-sunken eyes,
Were an all-eating shame and thriftless praise.
How much more praise deserved thy beauty's use,
If thou couldst answer 'This fair child of mine
Shall sum my count and make my old excuse,'
Proving his beauty by succession thine!
This were to be new made when thou art old,
And see thy blood warm when thou feel'st it cold.

Nietzsche ran with the same idea, or the spirit of it, or perhaps a perverse exaggeration of its spirit, in "Child and Marriage" from Thus Spake Zarathustra (excerpt):

I have a question for you alone, my brother: like a sounding lead, I cast this question into your soul that I might know how deep it is.

You are young and wish for a child and marriage. But I ask you: Are you a man entitled to wish for a child? Are you the victorious one, the self-conqueror, the commander of your senses, the master of your virtues? This I ask you. Or is it the animal and need that speak out of your wish? Or loneliness? Or lack of peace with yourself?

Let your victory and your freedom long for a child. You shall build living monuments to your victory and your liberation. You shall build over and beyond yourself, but first you must be built yourself, perpendicular in body and soul. You shall not only reproduce yourself, but produce something higher. May the garden of marriage help you in that!
I prefer the translation that says "square-built" rather than "perpendicular," but I'm not sure which translation that is, and I don't have it handy.

What Works and Sentiment

A few years back, Taner Edis reviewed Michael Martin's Atheism, Morality, and Meaning, and came to some rather odd conclusions for an avowed non-believer:

For all its intellectual defects, religion does appear to help many of us cope with such [existential, meaning-of-life] worries. And it does so within the context of a religious life ... [which provides] the satisfactions of approaching the Perfect Good by cultivating a religious way of living, and the assurance that good will eventually prevail. Atheism denies this view of cosmic harmony, and it is no wonder religious people are inclined to ask whether the loss is too much to bear. [emphasis mine]
"Too much to bear" in what sense? Sadly, it seems to mean: too much to bear emotionally. The world will seem unbearably indifferent and unwelcoming without the delusions of god-belief.

For many people, this is undoubtedly so. It is nevertheless a fallacy of reasoning, the sentimental fallacy to be exact, and the identification of this fallacy is among the starting points of the atheistic view, not a rebuttal to it -- or certainly not a good one. Edis continues in this fashion, piling on the appeals to sentiment:
This is not to say that a more skeptical life does not have its own satisfactions. No doubt many atheists feel better off for their lack of faith. But again, those of us who do not feel troubled by the lack of a full-blown objectivity with regard to morals will also suspect that religious skepticism makes sense only within some ways of life, and that going without God will not work as a coping mechanism and an avenue to finding "meaning" in life for everyone. Some of us will go so far as to wonder if religiosity remains the most pragmatic, even rational, choice for many.
How's that? How rational and pragmatic is it, really, to ground one's emotional life in falsehoods? A little self-deception is arguably necessary to make it through life, but surely realism must enter in.

I think it's worthwhile to step back and observe that the human experience of sentiments is exactly what it is, nothing more and nothing less, in this god-free universe of ours. God does not exist, and yet people find life either unbearable or joyful; they either dread the future or eagerly anticipate it; they feel surrounded by love, awash in indifference, buried in hatred, or points between. These emotional states happen, and we have every reason to expect them to continue.

We demonstrably have never needed the crutch of god because that crutch has always been non-existent -- this is the consistently-atheistic position, for whatever good that particular "hobgoblin of little minds" may be.

Cultivating a realistic understanding of what has promoted happiness and banished sorrow in the past is the best way to continue doing so. We should pursue what truly works in advancing human happiness and flourishing, in much the same way that we stopped the prayers and rituals and started pesticides and fertilizers to ensure bountiful crops.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

No Apologies

With due respect to repentance and apologies, repentance and apologies matter only so much. Coming from a member of Congress, especially one who claims he knew better all along, they count markedly less than votes cast:

On July 12, 1996, I cast the worst vote of my political career ... I was convinced that by voting for this one federal statute against the recognition of same-sex marriage [DOMA], it would somehow take the steam out of the Newt Gingrich-Tom Delay Congress, which was using the homophobic right-wing agenda to mobilize their base at the expense of millions of gay, lesbian, transgendered, and bisexual Americans. My hope was to simply move on and get to more pressing business at hand, including smaller steps for equality based on sexual orientation, like legislation against employment discrimination.
I appreciate the apology and the mea culpa to which it is attached, but not very much.

The time to vote for anti-gay discrimination is never, and the time to prioritize important matters is now. The best tactic to use against bigots, parasites, chiselers, liars, and clowns who seek to halt progress and spread injustice is to vote against their agenda and vote for a better agenda. Those who pursue what they know to be right and oppose what they know to be wrong have no need for apologies.

I hope Representative Blumenauer and all progressive-minded lawmakers will apply this lesson widely -- and without apology.

Post-Swayze Video Dating

I gather the death of Patrick Swayze -- may he rest in peace -- is a matter of distress among at least some women, and while nothing can bring him back, here's a vivid reminder that there are still fish in the sea. Or there were as of 1987.

Please, ladies: goddesses only, no fatties or dopers or smokers or hamsters, and -- this is delicate -- how did Ed Norton get in this video?



Wolverines!

(via Portland Mercury)

Apophatic Fail

Stephen Law poses a good question to the apophatic-minded believers:

[M]ost apophaticists also deem this mysterious, transcendent not-a-thing worthy of our worship and gratitude, which raises the question of why worship and gratitude are appropriate attitudes for us to have towards a transcendent not-a-thing that not only pointlessly tortures children but has unleashed unimaginable quantities of suffering on sentient creatures over hundreds of millions of years.
Maybe god is unimaginably small, maybe unimaginably huge; either way, the apophatic god is famously ineffable, unknowable, unthinkable, beyond the reach and well beyond the grasp. It/he/she cannot be pinned down, categorized, thought through, compared, examined, nor located in time or space.

Whatever fits that string of words, it is indistinguishable from nothingness. I say it's better to deal in consequential and concrete matters than to gesture at pondering what's openly declared imponderable. Life is too short to spend time on mislabeled nullities.

Inglourious Basterds - A Meditation on War, Terrorism, Violence, Deception, Cinema, and Deal-Making

Having re-watched Inglourious Basterds (IB), and after having imbibed some of the commentary and engaged in my own offline bull-sessions with assorted parties,* I now present a partial and spoiler-riddled listing of many of the pregnant questions and observations it places before the viewer. I believe I mentioned the following has spoilers, didn't I? If not, I'd like to make clear that this list will include spoilers.

  • Among other things, the opening scene establishes the thematic frame of the film, namely, the relationship between civility and violence, dramatized in the hyper-polite, well-mannered interaction between the German Col. Landa and a French dairy farmer who is hiding Jews. The interaction is well-mannered, that is, until the shooting starts, and throughout the scene, the anticipation of the violence is palpable -- the only question is what form it will take and who, if anyone, will emerge alive.
  • The violence with which this scene culminates is remarkably tame and indeterminate by the standards of this film. Why? Why doesn't Landa fire his gun at Shoshanna? Are we certain Shoshanna's family is dead? What does the reserve of this opening scene set up, and what does it decline to set up, in the way of conflict and characterization?
  • The guys at The Film Talk assure us that the French farmer looks almost exactly as Stanley Kubrick looked at one stage of his life; interpret this as you will, perhaps taking into consideration that Kubrick dealt with the violence-civility line quite explicitly in several of his films, notably Lolita, Dr. Strangelove, A Clockwork Orange, The Shining, Full Metal Jacket, and so on. I can't say what 2001: A Space Odyssey was trying to address or mean or tell us, if anything -- I've been meaning to give it another try -- but maybe it fits this too.
  • Col. Landa executes an ambush at the dairy farm by switching to English, a language he knows the hiding Jews do not know. Several scenes later, the American Lt. Raines perpetrates an ambush by switching to Italian, after he is assured that Germans do not have an ear for it. What are we to conclude about the tactic of cloaking oneself in language in this way? Fair game? Dishonorable?
  • Upon our introduction to Lt. Raines, we learn several things: that he is descended from Apaches; that he comes from Tennessee; that he has a terrible (and never explained) wound on his neck that seems to have been made by a noose; that he wants a small unit of soldiers -- "Jewish-American" soldiers to be exact -- to join him in a campaign of Apache-inspired ambush, trickery, torture, killing, and terror. Notably, one of the first things he tells his men is that his unit will be operate outside the allied liberation of Europe -- their work will happen before and independently of that (D-Day) landing they've heard rumors about. He seems to be giving himself and his unit permission to step outside the rules of war, which they promptly do. Where have we heard this song before?
  • Why is it important for Lt. Raines to have Jewish-American soldiers? Is this connected with the neck wound in any way -- did citizen Aldo Raines turn up on the wrong side of a lynch mob in Tennessee, perhaps? Is Raines jewish? Did he start on the "white" side of a lynch mob only to find his mob outnumbered and overpowered by the "black" side? Is his neck wound a permanent mark that gave him the idea of leaving a permanent mark on the few Germans he left alive?
  • Three of Raines's men strapped explosives to their bodies, concealed it under their clothing, and went in among the enemy to kill them. Where have we heard this song before?
  • On the matter of the rules of war and codes of honor, there are at least two instances where deals are struck and then, apparently, broken: the deal by which the "Mexican standoff" is resolved in the basement bar, and the deal by which Col. Landa surrenders to the allies but betrays the Nazi high command. I say apparently because the former deal is shattered by the German actress, who had no say in the deal struck. She herself committed to nothing. Likewise, it's not clear whether or to what extent Lt. Raines considered himself a party to the deal between Landa and Raines' superior. The deal was struck, after all, while Raines was disarmed, bound, and at the mercy of Landa; and we only heard Landa's side of the telephone conversation, so we don't know the explicit terms. Nor do we know what orders, if any, Raines received concerning the deal. The larger question -- another from a song we've possibly heard loudly and recently -- is the extent to which people are bound to compacts to which they were not direct signatories or freely-negotiating agents. Does the actress's alliance with the allies bind her to the deals they strike? All of them? Is that an appropriate standard to which to hold a secret agent? Is Raines always and automatically bound to the terms of deals his commanders improvise? That these deals were struck in "ticking time bomb," life-or-death, exigent scenarios make any difference?
  • We are shown Nazis and sympathizers sitting in a movie theater avidly enjoying the sight of a German soldier gunning down allied soldiers. If we look carefully, we can see another group of people sitting in a movie theater avidly enjoying the sight of killing. For most of us, this can be facilitated by use of a hand mirror. What does this suggest about the nature and morality of watching violence on the big screen?
  • Joseph Goebbels, the chief of Nazi propaganda, figures prominently in this movie, as does his work -- his propaganda film is interspliced with a propaganda film from a small corner of the French resistance. Arguably, both of these films have been spliced into a third propaganda film, Inglourious Basterds, although it's not clear what it's propagandizing. What have we learned, if anything, about propaganda?
  • Beyond mere propaganda, cinema is explicitly weaponized: a movie theater is used as a fire trap, and nitrocellulose film is used as the fuel. Earlier in the movie, just before "The Bear Jew" clubs a Nazi soldier to death with a baseball bat, Lt. Raines comments that watching these beatings are, for his unit, the closest thing they have to going to the movies.
  • By the end, it's finally apparent why it began with "once upon a time ..." -- it's a fanciful rewriting of history. So it was all a fairy tale. Right?
Movies are entertainment, whatever their form. Right? This one is entertaining, sure, but it's also rife with questions lacking clear answers, and all its questions -- there are more besides these -- are interesting ones.



* Marla, the twins, my son, my wife, Aunt Ginny, Patty-Sue, Ned, JJ, Cabbage, Wilbur, the ghost of the lizard Pogo, Gena, Ol' Red, and last but not least, BFD (Cf.), who contributed some of the material above -- all of it you find uninteresting, to be exact.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Amen Break

I am delighted to learn there is a distinct name for the drumming pattern of Sinead O'Connor's "I Am Stretched on Your Grave":



Hers is a slow adaptation of it, one I've found compelling for a long time before I realized it had a name. It is called "The Amen Break," as thoroughly explained in this video:



Nirvana used it too, as did the Spinanes -- not as samples per se, but as distinct drum tracks. The drums to the coda of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" are a close cousin.

Did it really begin in 1969? I have a hard time believing that. It strikes me as pretty basic.

(via 3QD)

Triangulating Bullshit

The president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary is a credentialed, titled authority in matters of baseless twaddle, and as useless as this is, it is exactly enough to call bullshit on Karen Armstrong:

Armstrong calls for the emergence of "a more authentic notion of God." Her preferred concept of God would be about aesthetics, not theology. "Religion is not an exact science but a kind of art form," she intones ... Interestingly, it is Dawkins ... who understands God better than Armstrong ... We should at least give Dawkins credit here for knowing what he rejects. Here we meet an atheist who understands the difference between belief and unbelief.
The Dawkins in question is, of course, Richard Dawkins, world-renowned scientist, champion of crisp distinctions, and scourge of vacuous bullshit. Dawkins does indeed know what he rejects and the method by which he does the rejecting.

Not so Karen Armstrong, who is now where she has been all along -- needing to defend her blithely groundless assertions from not one but two angles, from people who both believe and disbelieve in the same god she apparently finds so aggravatingly simplistic and literal-minded. This disappointing-to-Armstrong god is the one who figures prominently in such obscure texts as the Bible and the Koran, who famously answers prayers, smites enemies, dispatches the occasional messenger, sets all the rules, establishes everlasting land claims, and so on. Believers and unbelievers alike recognize this figure and its history; Armstrong's hazy notion is awkwardly aslant. That it sells books does not make it true, useful, or even definite.

(via Ophelia Benson)

"Mysterons" at the Brink

Let this suggest what it will about the state of my present mood swings and rich (arguably) interior life -- "Mysterons" and the rest of Portishead's Dummy has been the only thing keeping me on the good side (arguably) of the insane-insane line today. Arguably.

It's arguable, but that's not to say I am prepared to argue it. Enjoy, but as always with Portishead, do not trust your first 15 listens, for this music is much better than it sounds:

Monday, September 14, 2009

Tennis as Badminton

The elegance of this tennis point is almost enough to make me retract every word I recently wrote about the monotonous state of professional singles tennis. Almost. Watch:



With its display of ball placement, use of muscles other than those of the dominant shoulder, and sheer drama, this tennis point almost rivals something you'd see in badminton. Almost. Watch:



And this: