Sunday, January 31, 2010

A Correction in Emphasis

Regarding that last post, I realize I framed the matter as though Democrats have outraged their supporters by failing to follow through on campaign commitments. On the most important questions -- such as following and enforcing the law -- that's secondary. The offense is against the Constitution and the principles that define this country, and as such, whether and to what extent elected officials follow their campaign pledges is inconsequential. Regardless of party, and regardless of the pledges individual candidates make, each is required to uphold and defend the Constitution.

Every official of the federal government, without exception, is bound by oath to observe, protect, uphold, and defend the Constitution -- the Constitution, not someone's political fortunes, not the national borders, not "the national interest," not the good favor of the pundits, editors, scribblers, bloggers, and think tanks, not the economy, not even the safety of the people.

To say, for example, that candidate Barack Obama declined to make specific promises regarding prosecutions of Bush-Cheney officials for various crimes, is arguably true and totally irrelevant. Once elected and sworn to office, President Obama instantaneously became responsible for pursuing the law in these matters. Failure to do so is a violation of his constitutional oath.

Proceeding as though the laws don't apply to high-ranking officials might poll well, and might achieve someone's high-minded idea of "bi-partisan outreach." It also undoes this country.

Honor and Change

In the dark days of yore, not only Bush and Cheney themselves, but members of the cabinet and assorted flacks reporting to them were shielded from accountability for authorizing torture (among other things). Then, in November 2008, Barack Obama was elected president, his party won huge majorities in Congress, and change had arrived -- or rather, the word change had arrived:

[A]n upcoming Justice Department report from its ethics-watchdog unit, the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), clears the Bush administration lawyers who authored the “torture” memos ... Previously, the report concluded that two key authors—Jay Bybee, now a federal appellate court judge, and John Yoo, now a law professor—violated their professional obligations as lawyers when they crafted a crucial 2002 memo approving the use of harsh tactics, say two Justice sources who asked for anonymity discussing an internal matter. But the reviewer, career veteran David Margolis, downgraded that assessment to say they showed “poor judgment,” say the sources. (Under department rules, poor judgment does not constitute professional misconduct.) The shift is significant: the original finding would have triggered a referral to state bar associations for potential disciplinary action—which, in Bybee’s case, could have led to an impeachment inquiry.
Thud. Even the weak, craven half-measures undertaken to locate some accountability for these monsters, Bybee and Yoo (and no one above them in rank), have proven too bold. A light sanction has given way to a token chide.

I ask that the president and the members of his party do one and only one of the following: (1) use whatever means are available to deliver change on the bigger questions of public policy -- re-embracing the laws of war being among the biggest of the big; or (2) resign from whatever offices you currently hold, without delay; or (3) kill yourselves in whatever manner strike you as expedient, after the grandest ideals, even if not always the practice, of the Greeks and Romans.

I would strongly prefer (1), and I would certainly like to see (2) over (3), but I no longer want to see option (4), which has become the modus operandi of this White House and this Congress, which is lurch forever backward -- sometimes by large leaps, sometimes by small steps -- to insult the intelligence of all the people who bothered to vote them to power.

Stop it. Stop it now. You have long since run out of space for disgracing yourselves; now you're just insulting former supporters and presiding over the degradation of the country, occupying space that might be occupied by people with the courage and honor to bring necessary change. Stop it. Stop it now. Enough is enough.

So, to review: reverse the most ruinous policies of the Bush-Cheney years, resign, or kill yourselves. Pick one.

Update: I have added further thoughts on the above.

Friday, January 29, 2010

New Lines on MAX

As is known to every TriMet commuter with the ability to read, poems are posted inside trains and buses amid the advertisements for regional vocational schools and against letting yourself get run over by a TriMet train.

Just when I was ready to start tearing down these poems from despair at seeing the same ones for so very many years, we may now vote on new poems.

I shall not reveal my choices except to say that one of them was by Walt Whitman and the other two were not; and that I was immediately drawn away from any poem that seemed in any way germane to a commute. Of all things to summon to mind through poetry while trudging off to work, why choose trudging off to work? Trudging off to work is already present. The commute needs fresh material.

Vote if you agree. Vote even if you don't.

Murderer Guilty of Murder

Now and then, justice prevails:

A jury took less than 40 minutes Friday to find Scott Roeder guilty of first-degree murder in the shooting of abortion provider George Tiller in a church here last May.
A jury of clear-headed people in south central Kansas have seen a terrorist thug for what he is. This is a good thing.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Loss in Two Installments

Installment One: I have little to add to the brief words of praise for J.D. Salinger at Obscene Desserts, and even if I did have something to add, it would not be as good as The Onion's remembrance:

In this big dramatic production that didn't do anyone any good (and was pretty embarrassing, really, if you think about it), thousands upon thousands of phonies across the country mourned the death of author J.D. Salinger, who was 91 years old for crying out loud. "He had a real impact on the literary world and on millions of readers," said hot-shot English professor David Clarke, who is just like the rest of them, and even works at one of those crumby schools that rich people send their kids to so they don't have to look at them for four years. "There will never be another voice like his." Which is exactly the lousy kind of goddamn thing that people say, because really it could mean lots of things, or nothing at all even, and it's just a perfect example of why you should never tell anybody anything.
Salinger's work did not strike me as deeply as it did so many, but I did cherish The Catcher in the Rye and rue the loss.

Installment Two: The death of historian Howard Zinn strikes more closely. For all the imperfections of academic rigor in A People's History of the United States, I am hard-pressed to name another book that better enriched my understanding of things I thought I knew or further expanded the field of questions I would think to ask about history, politics, class, and society. I had the good fortune to attend a lecture given by professor Zinn in 1995, and I'm slightly surprised and delighted to see that it was recorded and is, apparently, available for download. The world is poorer without his avowedly, insistently, unapologetically intemperate voice on behalf of peace, justice, the oppressed, and the downtrodden.

Idiocy in Two Installments

Installment One: volunteering that President Obama's speech last night made him forget that the president is black -- if only for a charmed hour -- Chris Matthews revealed a great deal about himself, most of it too obvious and too dispiriting to belabor here. Beyond that, he revealed his ignorance of the long-running bit in which Stephen Colbert portrays a boorish, elitist political pundit who cannot perceive race. How embarrassing for Stephen Colbert, who probably thought he had been engaged in parody all this time.

The video:



Installment Two: Senator Judd Gregg epitomizes the GOP penchant for bellowing for reduced government spending whilst indignantly refusing to specify the spending he would reduce. This little vignette illustrates anew the wisdom of President Obama's oh-so-bipartisan decision a year ago to elevate Senator Gregg to Commerce Secretary -- perhaps this was done on the theory of keeping your friends close and your petulant retards closer?

The video:

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Experts Agree

I wonder if this exemplifies one of those inescapable parts of the human condition that appeal to millions of human beings across the globe sunnily recounted by renowned scholars? Slather on the SPF-75 sunscreen and feel the rays:

A 16-year-old girl who was raped in Bangladesh has been given 101 lashes for conceiving during the assault ... Her rape emerged after her pregnancy test and Muslim elders in the village issued a fatwa insisting that the girl be kept in isolation until her family agreed to corporal punishment.
The question of who possesses the superior understanding of "true Islam" here, Karen Armstrong or the filthy jackals who orchestrated this travesty, is indeterminate unless and until Allah beams down and holds forth.

But not everything about the case is so uncertain. These elders derived their rotten, noxious ideas and impulses from whatever ultimate source -- tradition, rivalry, local politics, personal grudges, garden-variety prejudice, who knows? -- and found warrant for it within Islam -- and note the charitable assumption that they didn't get the idea from Islam's texts and traditions.

It's equally clear that the warrant that Islam is able to grant in such a case -- its esteem here on earth, its taboo status, its claim on that which is "sacred," perhaps "inescapable" in human affairs -- is furthered by the likes of Karen Armstrong's sunny, glass-half-full view of it.

Armstrong and the jackals agree -- Islam is a positive and redeeming force in the world. Look away from the rape. Look away from whipping the victim of rape.

Concessions Being Drafted Now

In a Very Special Election yesterday, Oregon voters passed two tax increases, and the votes weren't even terribly close as these things go: measure 66 passed 54% - 46% and measure 67 passed 53% - 47%, meaning the wealthiest households and businesses (respectively) will henceforth pay a little more to the state, and, more importantly, that Oregon will continue to have a functional public sector. It's good to know that somewhere, not far from here, a road might be repaired, a school might remain open for five days a week, and that someone will be there to answer 911 calls (and the someone won't be a contractor for Halliburton charging by the minute). This vote makes these eventualities slightly less likely for a while.

This assumes, of course, that the 41-member Senate GOP supermajority in Washington doesn't momentarily forget its principled passion for states' rights and overturn the vote. My expectation is that in tonight's State of the Union address, President Obama will outline the concessions that he and the Senate Democrats have already made to accede to the 41-Republican supermajority's mighty sway on this matter -- among many other matters, of course. Elections have consequences!

Well done, voters of Oregon.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Geek Out, Tune Out, Tune Back In

Maybe it's just the fish oil* supplements talking -- Sorry, fish! I hope the wringing-out didn't do any permanent damage! -- or maybe it's just that Matt Yglesias is not a complete asshole, but I think there's something to consider in these remarks:

I think the right way to interpret the news that most Americans think the stimulus money has been wasted rather than helping them is pretty obvious. Most people don’t know a lot of macroeconomic theory, most people don’t pay a lot of attention to politics, and most people recognize that the unemployment rate is ridiculously high. Ergo, they’ve decided the money was wasted.

Joe Klein has a good piece laying out the truth but I also think it’s a textbook example of how not to talk about gaps in the public’s knowledge ...

The simple fact of the matter is that there’s only so much time in the day and everyone can only know about so many things. ...

You don’t need an economic policy that people approve of, you need an economic policy that produces results people approve of—i.e., growth and jobs.
Whether in politics, science, religion, or elsewhere, it's easy enough to wax elitist and decry ignorance. I am very receptive to the idea that Pat Q. Public has an outright moral obligation to understand, minimally, the broad outlines of the bigger questions facing the world, and I'll probably return to some emphatic variation of that theme in the post immediately following this one.

It remains true that people wildly disagree about what's interesting in life, and interest in a topic tends to correlate with knowledge of a subject -- mind you, it's a tendency, not a law. I couldn't care less about muscle cars and I skip straight past the New Yorker's coverage of dance. If a production of Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet featuring Pontiac Firebirds as Montagues and Dodge Chargers as Capulets appears on the ballet scene, I hope no one will waste even a millisecond telling me about it.

It turns out it was the fish oil talking above, and you don't need to await the next post, because on further consideration, people who want to participate in a democratic republic worthy of the name should bother to familiarize themselves with the basics of the public policy before they start mewling their displeasure with it. The term non-sequitur exists to castigate the thinking that goes from, say, unemployment is unacceptably high to a freeze in federal spending is a fabulous idea, and really, it's too kind. More fitting terms include lazy, half-assed, and willfully ignorant; and as for the elected officials who indulge the laziness, insipid chickenshit seems apt enough, though spiraling fuck-up sounds good too.

We have good reason to be dismayed at the state of the economy, but now is a dangerous time to take even modest, halting steps in the direction of Hooverism.

Framing be damned. If you don't like something in the discursive frame, and yet the something happens to be true, the problem is you.


----------------
* I gather this makes me less than a complete vegetarian. I could re-frame the matter until contriving to conclude otherwise, but no, eating fish oil supplements that contain the oil wrung from actual fish makes me a less-than-complete vegetarian. So be it.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Dimensions Reside Chiefly in the Acting and Storytelling


There is justice in the world, just not very much: notwithstanding its absence of useless three-dee visuals and merchandising-friendly battle dragons, Mad Men won well-deserved SAG awards for best drama and best performance by an ensemble.

Call it quaint, but I much prefer to see extra dimension where Mad Men's creators put it.

And thus the terrorists have lost -- this time.

The Truth Pressed Flat

O heavens. It appears that Sam Harris and company are now defiling the very grave of Socrates by making definite claims about the shortcomings of faith as a truth-finding mechanism and the really existing consequences of religious enthusiasm -- so unlike wiser men writing in gentler times.

Look away if you have a weak stomach: many of the claims are expressed with a bluntness that doesn't seem crafted to flatter a worldwide majority of religious believers. Prithee absorb the weight of Karen Armstrong's soothing rocks:

I have written at length about the desecration of religion in the crusades, inquisitions, and persecutions that have scarred human history. I have also pointed out that ... far too many Muslims have in recent years distorted the traditional Islamic view of jihad, which originally referred to the “effort” required to implement the will of God in a violent world.

But these abuses do not constitute the whole story. Religion is also about the quest for transcendence, the discipline of compassion, and the endless search for meaning; it was not designed to provide us with the same kind of explanations as science, but to help us to live creatively, serenely, and kindly with the suffering that is an inescapable part of the human condition. As such, it continues to appeal to millions of human beings across the globe. To identify religion with its worst manifestations, claim that they represent the whole, and then demolish the straw dog thus set up does not seem a rational or useful way of conducting this important debate. [emphasis mine]
Certainly not! The only rational or useful way of conducting this important debate is to identify religion with its noblest manifestations. For authentication of its usefulness and rationality, stare directly at religion's continuing appeal to millions of people across the globe; Karen Armstrong will thank you on behalf of Socrates himself for ignoring the flickering, shadow-like quality.

Rock solid.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Poem of the Day: "Afraid So"

What a marvelously economical poem this is. With only a theme, 33 lines, and a series of brief -- disconnected? -- questions, it invites the imagination of scenarios, situations, stories, even whole lives.

Jeanne Marie Beaumont, "Afraid So"

Is it starting to rain?
Did the check bounce?
Are we out of coffee?
Is this going to hurt?
Could you lose your job?
Did the glass break?
Was the baggage misrouted?
Will this go on my record?
Are you missing much money?
Was anyone injured?
Is the traffic heavy?
Do I have to remove my clothes?
Will it leave a scar?
Must you go?
Will this be in the papers?
Is my time up already?
Are we seeing the understudy?
Will it affect my eyesight?
Did all the books burn?
Are you still smoking?
Is the bone broken?
Will I have to put him to sleep?
Was the car totaled?
Am I responsible for these charges?
Are you contagious?
Will we have to wait long?
Is the runway icy?
Was the gun loaded?
Could this cause side effects?
Do you know who betrayed you?
Is the wound infected?
Are we lost?
Can it get any worse?

This poem has been adapted into a brief film that joins the lines to nicely-chosen visual vignettes.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Win-Win for Houston

A preacher offers fresh reasons to avoid Houston, Texas:

An Amarillo [Texas] pastor has created a Web site calling for a boycott of Houston.

BoycottHouston.com says part of its mission is “to impose economic sanctions on the City of Houston, Texas for voting in an openly homosexual mayor and for allowing the largest Planned Parenthood abortion clinic in the United States."

The pastor said those factors run counter to what, he says, is supposed to be a large Christian community.
Hmm. Decent people will ignore this boycott, whereas each person who honors it translates into one fewer hidebound moron in Houston, making it a less unattractive place to go. I am not seeing the downside.

Reductionism Is Bad?

Jaron Lanier has seen fit to establish at book length that You Are Not A Gadget, an excerpt of which appears in the February 2010 Harper's. This bit captures the tone of the piece:

What computerized analysis of all the country's school tests has done to education is exactly what Facebook has done to friendships. In both cases, life is turned into a database. Both degradations are based on the same philosophical mistake, which is the belief that computers can presently represent human thought or human relationships. These are things that computers cannot currently do. Whether one expects computers to improve in the future is a different issue. In a less idealistic atmosphere it would go without saying that software should be designed only to perform tasks that can be successfully carried out at a given time. That is not the atmosphere in which Internet software is designed, however. When technologies deploy a computer model of something like learning or friendship in a way that has an effect on real lives, they are relying on faith. When they ask people to live their lives through their models, they are potentially reducing life itself.
If you have a Facebook account, don't kill yourself, Lanier seems to say: there's likely nothing left to kill. Oddly enough, the same issue of Harper's includes Lorin Stein's review of a new translation of Guy de Maupassant:
By the time he was in his early thirties, not just Flaubert and Zola but Turgenev, James, Tolstoy, and Nietzsche, and millions of ordinary French people, were reading everything he wrote. He had become "a lion in the path," as James put it -- a writer so "strong and definite" that he seemed able to reduce life almost solely to a matter of animal urges. "In the face of the demands made by the art of Maupassant," Chekhov complained, "it is difficult to work." His French was notoriously vivid and to the point.
Maupassant "reduced life?" Has anyone broken the news to Jaron Lanier? Stein is citing Henry James's Partial Portraits, in which he defines Maupassant's strongest "instrument":
... that of the senses, and it is through them alone, or almost alone, that life appeals to him; it is almost alone by their help that he describes it, that he produces brilliant works.
James elaborates on this brilliance:
As regards the other sense, the sense 'par excellence, the sense which we scarcely mention in English fiction, and which I am not very sure I shall be allowed to mention in an English periodical, M. de Maupassant speaks for that, and of it, with extra- ordinary distinctness and authority. To say that it occupies the first place in his picture is to say too little; it covers in truth the whole canvas, and his work is little else but a report of its innumerable manifestations. These manifestations are not, for him, so many incidents of life; they are life itself, they represent the standing answer to any question that we may ask about it.
The idea of reductionism hovers around this characterization of Maupassant's work -- the richness of human experience distilled into words as mediated principally through the senses. Whatever else may be said of James's view of Maupassant, it establishes that thoughtful people were suggesting the presence of reductionism long before the internets ruined everything. It's also worthwhile to note that James is lauding Maupassant's writing even as he accuses it of a form of reductionism.

In light of this, maybe Jaron Lanier could lighten up a little. Perhaps human beings are not doomed to degradation by our own clever tools (robots run amok!) after all. Concretely, those who cherish a form of friendship that web-based social networks cannot provide will do well to seek it beyond the web; likewise, those who wish for literary representation that goes deeper than Maupassant's concupiscence should likewise turn to other authors. Those who can't bear to witness the universe described in terms of equations, constants, formulas, numbers, forces, particles, and the like should avoid physics. And so on.

Reductionism takes many forms, and it is not new. Its uses and results vary.

A nobler person than I would decline to note that an electronic edition of You Are Not A Gadget is also available, but I am not that person. I add the wild guess that the electronic edition contains exactly the same sequence of words bearing the same insights as the paper edition.

Cf.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Unobtainium as Cat-Flesh


Here is an odd beast recently found in the vicinity of Salem, Oregon:

The odds for a male kitten to have the three distinct colors of orange, white and black are only about 1 in 3,000 ... The reason that tri-color cats are almost always female is because two X chromosomes are required to produce the orange, black and white color pattern ...
What next? A Republican senator from Massachusetts? An African-American president? A Supreme Court ruling holding that corporations are persons for purposes of First Amendment law? A Golden Globe for best drama to a slapdash assemblage of movie cliches tacked to very expensive visual effects?

I predict this cat will be adopted, promptly put up for bid on craigslist or e-bay, and the proceeds of that sale used for something other than the love and support of any cat, living or dead, young or old, male or female, within or beyond a standard deviation of the statistical norm for housecat coloration. I predict the money will be used to buy crystal meth, to make the down payment on a Camaro, to pay off losses incurred at the cat-fights, or to help finance some corporatist hack's political career. Salem's charms abound.

Then again, it seems clear that predictions are for suckers.

Play Us Out, Phil

We are at war. War at are we? Stephen Colbert explores this interrogatory declaration with just the right level of seriousness. The musical portion of the program begins at about 2:50, but it makes more sense if you watch the whole thing.

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
We Are at War - Philip Glass
www.colbertnation.com
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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Memo to Getting Along with Others: It's Not You, It's Us

Take Sean Carroll, for example. He prizes comity, but he prizes truth more:

If science and religion are truly incompatible, then it would be dishonest and irresponsible to pretend otherwise, even if doing so would soothe a few worried souls. And if you want to argue that science and religion are actually compatible (not just that there exist people who think so), by all means make that argument — it’s a worthy discussion to have. But it’s simply wrong to take the stance that it doesn’t matter whether science and religion are compatible, we still need to pretend they are so as not to hurt people’s feelings. That’s not being honest.
The trouble with getting along with others is that, sooner or later, it demands more from our freighted human condition than it can deliver. If the true nature of things were somehow immediately and unambiguously conspicuous to us -- let's set aside whether that is, even in principle, a possibility coherent enough to bother hypothesizing -- getting along would involve nothing more than taking the time to consider a question.

But that's now how it is, nor will it ever be. We don't even reliably agree on the identity or priority of the questions, let alone the admissible universe of answers, let alone the better of the answers. Scientists like Carroll and their most fervent faith-based opponents agree that truth is the higher priority, but they differ markedly about what the truth is and how it is obtained. No matter how it is phrased or re-phrased, the demand to put truth below 'getting along' is a non-starter.

(via Ophelia Benson)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Some Newspaper or Other: Give Us Money

How deeply precious!

The New York Times announced on Wednesday that it would charge some frequent readers for access to its Web site ... Starting in January 2011, a visitor to NYTimes.com will be allowed to view a certain number of articles free each month; to read more, the reader must pay a flat fee for unlimited access.
Really, that is adorable, just adorable. It calls to mind the vivid accounts of King Alfred's court, where a young Æthelflæd paraded around with her infant sister, Ælfthryth, charging courtiers pocket-coins for baby's kisses.

To the geniuses at the NY Times who have conceived this fee-for-content scheme:
Put your nose down and pay attention to your work, because there's not one thing you've done here that I couldn't live without. You're good. Get better. Stop asking for things.
Don Draper's admonishment is probably too kind to the New York Times, but it will do for now.

Cf.

Varium et Mutabile

Yesterday's weird result in Massachusetts goes to show that voters are volatile, which is the kind way of saying that voters are deeply confused about how to manifest their anger and disaffection. The same pool of voters who gave Obama a 26-point margin of victory just over a year ago, who favored McGovern over Nixon, who favored Carter over Ford, who favored Dukakis over Bush, who favored Clinton over Bush and then Dole, who favored Kerry over Bush, who voted Ted Kennedy to the Senate through seven full election cycles after he got drunk and drove one of his girlfriends into a lake where she died (too soon?) -- this same pool of voters, adjusted for the ebbs and flow of demographics, has now favored an obscure He-Palin, a man who wants everyone to know that he owns a truck, with a position in the US Senate.

The incoherence of voters is only part of the story. Until very recently, I would have thought it preposterous that the Democrats -- yes, even the Democrats -- could find a way to fumble away this particular Senate seat. They've exceeded my expectations again!

The causes are many -- I would cite, first, the burgeoning disaffection of Democrats resulting from the reality that the gigantic majority we worked to achieve in 2008 got us little more than a year of aggressive, yet ineffectual, attempts to treat the tea-bagging nihilists on the right as though they aspire to practical ends in public policy rather than facing the fact that they aspire to nothing beyond torture, war, and tax cuts. All the rest is, for them, theocratic posturing, lightly sublimated racism, and the throwing of feces.

Why would Massachusetts voters rise in numbers and intensity to preserve a majority that has delivered almost nothing?

They would not, and certainly not for the sake of a lazy, unseemly candidate. Coakley's dismissal of former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling as a Yankees fan was aggressively touted as the biggest high-stakes political gaffe since Lady Æthelflæd's too-effusive praise of her cousin Æthelhelm in the court of King Alfred doomed her already-dim chances of direct succession.

The "Schilling Gaffe" may be just more easily-grasped gossipy codswallop that attracts cable tee-vee chatter-bags, but then again, having been to Boston, adoration of the Red Sox is universal and, to all appearances, legally mandatory. As a practical matter, if you wanted to succeed in democratic politics, you wouldn't confuse Sooners and Longhorns in Oklahoma City, nor Lakers and Trailblazers in Portland, nor Blue Devils and Tarheels in Durham; confusing Red Sox and Yankees anywhere in Massachusetts is that multiplied by fifty.

Well-played, Democrats. Well-played indeed. The surprises, I suspect, are only beginning, for now we can anticipate the spectacle of the party's leaders finding a way to derive every possible wrong lesson from this defeat. What won't be surprising -- only disgusting and further dispiriting -- will be the sight of too many Democrats barely able to conceal their glee at having a slightly better excuse for accomplishing nothing.

Perfection: "Behind the House"

I realize I am a hopeless Neko Case fan-boy and all, but if there is anything short of perfection in this performance of "Behind the House" on Austin City Limits, I have no idea what it is. I do not mean to say that every performance of Neko Case is perfect -- my six readers would laugh at me if I said that, and a man in my position can't afford to be made to look ridiculous (for purposes of this blog post). I am singling out this performance of this song, as it takes everything that is magical and beautiful in her work and turns it up to 11; and I hasten to note that the talented members of her band are very strongly contributory to the perfection.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Of Crosses and Parallels

A dewy-eyed Rod Dreher reports having watched Haitians on television praying and singing hymns amid their profound suffering, and locates A Very Special Lesson:

From one point of view, this is insane. From another, it's heroic. It's what you would expect from a people whose religion centers on a God who was humiliated, tortured, and nailed to a cross until he died in agony. The crucifixion is not the last word! This behavior from the Haitians makes perfect sense from a Christian point of view ...
I had to read this a few times to make sense of it, but I think Dreher's Very Special Lesson is that Christianity has taught Haitians, through the example of Jesus, that unbearable suffering -- dying on a cross in Calvary, watching your loved ones pried off a piece of rebar in Port Au Prince -- ends happily.

This comedy more or less hangs together for Jesus, who, so the story goes, rounded off his terrible weekend by floating up to a luxury suite and sitting in judgment over matters of damned versus saved for all humankind from that point forward -- nice work if you can get it. He also went on to be the subject of countless paintings, the protagonist of one of the world's most widely-circulated books, the recipient of countless billions of prayers from people of all walks of life, the first one thanked after any number of victories in sporting events, and surely not least, the guy who changed George W. Bush's heart. It's not a deal I'd take, but it's not a bad trade-off on the whole.

The comedy for these singing Haitians is not so easy to sketch. It's perfectly compatible with Christian theology that they'll not only endure the horrors of this recent earthquake, but still end up in hell after they finally die -- an eternity of rebar, rubble, and agony. It should surprise no one if the trauma of this experience scars their psychology and perturbs their world-view in a way that increases this likelihood since Haitians, unlike the Jesus in whom Dreher sees an easy parallel, are saddled with a regular, everyday human nature with all its limitations in carrying capacity and perspective, not one charged with extra god powers. They might just fall out of the praising, singing, joyous mood that Dreher saw on tee-vee.

Cheap casuistry aside, it seems to me that if god exists and wants to see a happy ending for the wracked people of Haiti, now would be an excellent time to step in and make it happen. Meanwhile, the best available evidence suggests that we fellow human beings will bring the survivors in Haiti out of ruin and despair or nothing will.


(via Rust Belt Philosophy)

End of Excuses Long Overdue

If President Obama does not use his power to aggressively investigate and pursue this matter to the full extent of the law, he should be impeached and removed.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy



It has been a year since Barack Obama was sworn in as president, so it is no longer adequate to point vaguely in the direction of Bush, Cheney, Gonzales, Mukasey and the rest of the despicable clowns who oversaw the previous junta. Or rather: we have an established method for assessing and assigning blame (and its absence) under our system -- a legal system with long-established rules of evidence and standards of due process. It is past time to apply that process. The time for excuses is over.

It will never be time to "look forward" and past accountability when agents of the US government are, on credible evidence, guilty of extra-judicial killing. A court of law is the best available place to winnow credible evidence from overheated accusation. This should not be hashed out in blogs, newspapers, magazines, talk radio, or television.

Crimes of this kind will never be acceptable no matter who gets elected, no matter anyone's rise or fall in the opinion polls, no matter anyone's delightful speeches.

Speeches and politics be damned. Those responsible for these crimes, and those who condone and perpetuate them, need to face justice.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Golden Globe Award: Now Worth Its Weight in Unobtainium

Surely you're making a funny, United States of America Today dot com:

Having secured its first major best-picture award this weekend, Avatar ignites an Oscar race that has had no clear front-runner.

And, depending on whom you ask, it still doesn't.

Though James Cameron's sci-fi soap opera nabbed the best-drama prize Sunday at the Golden Globes ...
The phrasing isn't as clear as one would hope, but I think this passage indicates that Avatar won the Golden Globe for Best Drama.

That's not funny, United States of America Today dot com, and yet it appears to be the truth of the matter. It can only encourage more concoctions of cinematic offal served up beneath a veneer of magnificent, life-altering, mind-blowing, bug-out-your-eyes, go-ahead-and-kill-me-now-for-life-can-only-get-worse-from-here visual effects.

We were, of course, assured of this in any case, but now we have it established that a shitty movie that looks cool can rightly expect critical acclaim up to and including prestigious awards.

Well done, Golden Globe voters. You're right, of course. Avatar was a better dramatic film than The Hurt Locker. It was a better film than Inglourious Basterds. It was a better film than Precious. It was a better film than Up in the Air. Of course! Rest easy! Future observers of the history of film won't laugh at your judgment, not even a little bit.

(Cf. part I, part II, part III)

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Letter from a Puddle-Town Cubicle

Dear US companies not observing Martin Luther King Jr. Day tomorrow,

While dreading tomorrow's confinement in a dull workplace cubicle, I came across the realization that I shouldn't have to bother dreading it since tomorrow is a national holiday. This prompts me to think of all the companies that are open tomorrow without needing to be, and to ask them a few gentle questions, namely, why do you despise black people? Why do you so openly pine for a return of segregation, if not de facto legalized lynching, if not an outright resumption of the enslavement of Africans? Why do you consider Martin Luther King Jr.'s story to be a blot on our national history?

I realize many of you are headquartered in one of the former Confederate states, where the wounds from The War of Northern Aggression shall never, as a matter of principle, heal -- and for any southerners reading this, I am completely, totally, and absolutely aware that that war had nothing to do with race and everything to do with "states' rights" and stuff -- but many of you are not headquartered in a Confederate state. Either way, what's the trouble?

I mean, have you ever listened to this and considered its context?



Tomorrow's arc may be long but it bends toward closure: the stock markets are closed. The banks are closed. Nearly all school districts are closed. Nearly all federal, state, county, and local government offices are closed, including the US Postal Service, so to whatever extent your business enterprise handles incoming and outgoing mail, that will be at a standstill tomorrow.

I recognize that some business operations must go on regardless of holidays -- the guys watching over nuclear reactors, police, fire fighters, hospitals, and plenty more. Other companies have no particular reason to conduct business as usual tomorrow, but they will open anyway, and it is these I address when I ask: why? What's the fierce urgency?

To paraphrase a wise and rightly-revered figure of American history, if I have said anything in this letter that overstates the truth and indicates an unreasonable impatience, I beg you to forget about me and ask yourself why you hate black people so much and whether it's long past time to re-think that. If I have said anything that understates the truth and indicates my having a patience that allows me to settle for anything less than doing the right thing, I apologize to my six readers, who expect nothing less than maximum impatience and intemperance.

It's true I want the day off, and it's also true that what I want doesn't matter much. If your business is open tomorrow without needing to be, look no further for the blot -- the blot is you.

Yours for the cause of peace and brotherhood,

Dale

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Now Happening in Haiti: Reality

Just as attributing the suffering in Haiti to a deal with the devil reveals the speaker as insipid and depraved (even if granted a hemming, hawing defense by people who should know better), so too does applying the word miracle to instances in which human efforts save a life.

The fate of Haiti's people rests -- today, yesterday, and tomorrow -- on the concrete, everyday, individual and collective choices of really-existing human beings. Supernaturalism-laced just-so stories, whatever interesting emotions they succceed in inspiring, can only distort the truth of cause and effect.

Reality contains multitudes. Reality has presently sacked Haiti, and only reality can save its people from further ruin. Each of us is part of that reality.

Friday, January 15, 2010

You Blot That

Surely it says grave, terrible things about me that I can't seem to get this scene from American Gangster out of my head. It's not that I have watched, or even re-watched, that movie recently; it's been a while. It's not that I especially adore the movie, or the scene, though I do enjoy both. It's not even that I've suddenly found myself with wine-stained $25,000 alpaca floor coverings. It's just, well ... just watch:



Remember: according to no less an authority than the guy portrayed by Denzel Washington in American Gangster, when someone spills wine on your exhorbitantly expensive alpaca rug, apply club soda and blot, don't rub, that shit.

Raving Theocrats or Mental Time Travelers?

Before the Tennessee legislature in the capacity of "minister of the day," Courtney Rodgers beseeched the ceiling cat concerning those serving in the US military:

We pray that their sacrifices are not in vain, lost to a godless and apathetic nation. For it has been declared to the world that we are no longer a Christian nation. But as Americans, we cannot turn our backs on our history for it cannot be erased.
Sure, sure, these are falsehoods sitting precariously atop stilts composed of other falsehoods, but arguably, the most deliciously awful thing here is the implication that non-Christian soldiers sacrifice in vain. On Rodgers's account, non-Christian troops are bleeding for a theocracy founded on a creed they don't profess.

This may seem off the wall, but follow me for a moment. Has anyone come out and asked Courtney Rodgers (or like-minded barkers) what year it is? I would not be surprised if her answer was a few centuries off. Note that 1620 was the founding year of the first colony of what became New England, and that 1787 was the year when a famous document constituted the USA as a legal and political entity having nothing to do with god or Christianity.

Between 1620 and 1787, it was not strictly accurate but also not apeshit-insane to say that a "Christian nation" sat where the eastern half of the current-day USA sits.

Perhaps, then, the like of Courtney Rodgers is both actually and clinically delusional, and takes herself to be speaking in the year 1797 (just to pick a round number). In 1797, a rube in the newly-admitted state of Tennessee would not have been completely unhinged to lament a recent change from "Christian nation" to "godless nation" -- she would merely have been ignorant, small-minded, and short-sighted, which was and remains barely noticeable in those climes.

I am offering the hypothesis that people who repeat such claims are sick in the head, and that their affliction detaches them from reality in a way that, unfortunately, does nothing to attenuate their rank unpleasantness or evident stupidity.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A Gnat-Borne Cautionary Tale


Meet the eye gnat. This unspeakably hideous creature, I re-learned the hard way today, is the reason I always wear sunglasses while I'm out running, regardless of weather or lighting: because if I don't, one of these miserable little shits will sacrifice himself for the apparently-gnat-pleasing experience of flying directly into my eye.

These filthy, wretched little monsters

... frequently congregate around the eyes to lap at the fluids. They are primarily a nuisance pest, and do not bite. They have been linked with the spread of bovine mastitis in North America, and in certain tropical regions, they are capable of vectoring disease-causing bacteria (e.g., yaws).
Now, because I didn't feel like putting on my sunglasses, I probably have a case of yaws and bovine mastitis, and I certainly have the rotting remains of a gnat in my eye.

Don't be like me.

Moff's Law Enforced Here

Not that it has ever done otherwise, but this precious, precious blog embraces and enforces Moff's Law, the preamble of which reads as follows:

Of all the varieties of irritating comment out there, the absolute most annoying has to be “Why can’t you just watch the movie for what it is??? Why can’t you just enjoy it? Why do you have to analyze it???”If you have posted such a comment, or if you are about to post such a comment, here or anywhere else, let me just advise you: Shut up. Shut the fuck up. Shut your goddamn fucking mouth. SHUT. UP.

First of all, when we analyze art, when we look for deeper meaning in it, we are enjoying it for what it is. Because that is one of the things about art, be it highbrow, lowbrow, mainstream, or avant-garde: Some sort of thought went into its making — even if the thought was, “I’m going to do this as thoughtlessly as possible”! — and as a result, some sort of thought can be gotten from its reception.
The entire thing is worth taking in, and needless to say, Moff's Law applies to all the creative productions of the human animal, not just talkies.

There is doubtless a place in life for the joy, catharsis, diversion, sensation, and whatever else can come from allowing a movie to simply happen, untroubled by the inner critic's endless cavils. Mentally escaping via someone else's creative work is worthwhile, maybe even necessary -- it certainly feels necessary as a sanity-preserver at times. But both the benefits and the shortcomings of enjoying a work in this way should be recognized, and as the maker of Moff's Law stated, the shortcomings begin with the recognition that thoughtlessness seems a spectacularly poor fit, as responses go, to something that came from thought.

I have heard it said: there is no substitute for thinking about what you're doing. So let it be written, so let it be done.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Pat Robertson: Still Relevant and Medically Alive

Tee-vee's Pat Robertson is unwilling to let his mental faculties melt away quietly, but with today's glut of unhinged far-right screeching, how does a black-souled dotard rise above the din?

Wander onto the set of the 700 Club (now conveniently adjacent to the room where a team of cosmetologists, dermatologists, and embalmers keeps him looking almost life-like) and start yammering about Haiti, that's how!



I'll go this far along with Pat Robertson's easygoing misanthropy: supposing there is a devil, I would take Pat Robertson as an authority on its dealings, past and present.

With all due charity to the tee-vee-famous preacher, nothing flits through the headlines that he cannot pull down, pluck clean, and shove through the grinder of the the bits of Biblical lore he still thinks he remembers. For that matter, calmly explaining Haiti's pact with Satan while its people bleed in the rubble is probably milder than what he kept repeating during rehearsals.

Aging with dignity and decency, thy name is Pat Robertson.

Haiti in Need - text 'Haiti' to 90999

Geez, Haiti, always so needy.

But seriously, the disaster there all too real and the people of Haiti need the rest of us. The American Red Cross has made it maddeningly simple to donate:

You can text “HAITI” to 90999 to donate $10 to American Red Cross relief for Haiti.
It couldn't be easier, and you won't even notice the $10 in the wash of your confusing-by-design phone bill.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Norm and Will

Will Rogers betrayed the socially-isolated reality behind his garrulous stage persona when he remarked that he never met a man he didn't like. Hold that thought and consider Norm Geras's reply to Katha Pollitt:

[Pollitt]: That is the paradox of patriotism: everyone is supposed to think her or his own country is "the best," but only one set of inhabitants can be right.
[Geras]: ...there's certainly no paradox of patriotism such as Pollitt identifies. There's no paradox because thinking your country best in this context doesn't mean best by some universally objective standard; it means something like best for you. A patriotic Belgian is not bound to think that Belgium has a better cinematic tradition than France or Italy, a patriotic English person doesn't have to think that England has better cuisine than... er, France or Italy ...
I am not one to say what a patriot is bound to uphold -- there are two senses in which I am not making any demands on True Scotsmen -- but I gently suggest that Norm's remark betrays how few self-styled American patriots he has encountered.

USA! USA! USA!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Marriage Argued

In the context of a new legal challenge to California's proposition 8, Ted Olson has written "the conservative case for gay marriage," which reads with a forehead-smacking clarity:

The Supreme Court has said that marriage is a part of the Constitution's protections of liberty, privacy, freedom of association, and spiritual identification. In short, the right to marry helps us to define ourselves and our place in a community. Without it, there can be no true equality under the law.
If you need more than that passage to accept Olson's argument, there is plenty more at the source. It is eloquent, straightforward, twaddle-free, and in every respect the sort of thing that could, if modeled and applied to public policy questions beyond gay marriage, almost restore the name of conservatism from its louder, more numerous contemporary exponents. Almost.

Counter-arguments, suitably dressed up in legalese, are inevitable, and the smart money says the federal courts will uphold the 2010's version of "separate-but-equal" and keep gay people drinking from their own fountains. I wince even thinking of the needle-threading legal, moral, and political casuistry that may establish lasting precedents against equality in marriage, but I sincerely hope the smart money is wrong.

Jonah and Byrne

Oh, dear sweet Alabama, you give me hope that your dizzying levels of backwardness can help people continue to overlook my home state of Oklahoma when trying to locate the mother lode of American stupidity:

"I believe the Bible is true," Republican gubernatorial candidate Bradley Byrne said here Wednesday. "Every word of it."
The GOP candidate for governor in Alabama cannot be expected to have the slightest idea what he's talking about, but it's worth noting that some of those words he has declared true include these, from the Bible's book of Jonah:
And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the stomach of the fish three days and three nights.
The completely true Bible doesn't give details of what Jonah did to breath, drink, eat, or otherwise pass the time while in the stomach of a seagoing "fish," other than to detail the prayer he issued while there, the gist of which was eloquently reproduced in Monty Python's The Meaning of Life:



The totally and completely true Bible goes on to report that the prayer worked: "Then the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah up onto the dry land." It neglects to mention what became of the "fish," which surely had a rough few days, but relates Jonah's actions after being projectile-vomited onto the shore. Details are, again, sketchy, but the rest concerns a visit to the city of Ninevah followed by an argument between god and Jonah over the fate of a shade tree.

Republican Bradley Byrne believes every word of that is true, and he asks for your vote in Alabama.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

No Punishments for Non-Crimes

Apostasy is not a crime -- not today, not tomorrow, not in a thousand years. Never, and in no place.

No civilized nation-state should be allowed to proceed as though apostasy is a crime worthy of punishment; such nations should be marginalized far and near, and seen as the rights-abusing, unjust, misruled, repressive regimes they are.

Every person has the right to change his religion as his conscience and reason dictate -- to or away from Islam, to or away from Christianity, to or away from Hinduism, to or away from his own mix-and-match creed, to or away from 'none of the above,' -- as often as he wishes, for any reason or for no reason at all, upon the slightest of mood swings, in response to the whirr of cricket song, the softest breeze, the vagaries of coin flips, the way the sunlight bounces off a parakeet, or anything else.

Every human being has the right to believe as he chooses, without exception, and governments that fail to acknowledge and protect this right are despicable and dangerous.

File the above under that which ought to be blindingly obvious to all.

Free Speech Warning: The Rules Do Apply

Eve Garrard sees shortcomings and potential dangers in the combination of some views of free expression and some views of religious freedom:

If we value free speech purely as a means to defend truth against falsehood then we're effectively saying that beliefs which we're sure are false don't need the protection of freedom of speech – we don't need to allow anyone to voice them.
I am not sure which we Garrard has in mind here, but inasmuch as this is someone's sole defense of free speech, it is indeed too limiting; she comes close to acknowledging this when she says that
[w]e often, perhaps generally, don't know for certain which views are the true ones and which are the false ones. Part of the point of having free speech is to help us find out which are which. [emphasis mine]
Part -- yes. Whole? No.

I would say that free expression is a human right, and this means those exercising it need not justify its exercise. It is not -- or I should say, should not be -- incumbent on anyone to explain why he wishes to say, hear, read, write, or otherwise engage in expression -- expression in general or any particular expression -- and without regard for the truth or falseness of the expression. We have a right to express true things, and no less a right to express false things. Period.

Practically speaking, it so happens that determinations of "X is true" versus "X is false" successfully emerge from the open, unrestricted airing of viewpoints. John Stuart Mill developed this argument rather thoroughly in On Liberty, and countless others have expanded it and furnished supporting examples, so I will not further belabor it except to repeat that yes, part of a thoroughgoing defense of free speech is the insight that it helps highlight truths and expose falsehoods.

Garrard continues the criticism of a form of vociferous irreligion:
Is it really the case that religious beliefs are all crude and stupid and primitive falsehoods? No doubt in some cases they are, but to suppose that all religious beliefs are like the worst ones is to ignore the immense variety and complexity of views which people can hold about God and the supernatural. Philosophers of religion have developed defences of religious belief of an incomparable sophistication and intellectual elegance; and the assumption that all such religious thinkers, from Plato through Aquinas to (for example) Alvin Plantinga and Robert Adams today, are more stupid and unsophisticated than your average atheist, is a crude and primitive supposition which a moment's glance at the evidence would dismiss.
This elides very different strands of argument. Even the harshest of atheistic critics -- Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Ophelia Benson, Jerry Coyne, PZ Myers, Russell Blackford, lesser known cranks (speaking!) -- acknowledge that religious thinkers and believers, past and present, have enriched human culture and learning immeasurably. To say otherwise would be wildly, embarrassingly ignorant.

The argument is not that the falseness of religion justifies the abolition of religious expression. The argument is that the truth or falseness of religion's factual, testable propositions -- this or that person was born of a virgin, this or that person took dictation from an angel, this or that ancient book depicts historical events as they actually happened, etc. -- are subject to all the same standards that winnow truth from falsehood, and these standards include the often rough-and-tumble terms under which contending claims are fought out in public. Hold on, Garrard says:
The falsehood of religion isn't a good basis for demanding the right to criticize it - if that's the only basis we've got, then the demand will simply be rejected by those who think that religion (or at least their version of it) is true.
Sure, they will reject it, as they routinely do, but this does not make it go away, nor should it. They still face the demand to answer the criticisms according to the usual rules and standards of reason and evidence, and to do so in public, unforgiving and crude though its conversational norms sometimes are. The consequence of not doing so, or of doing so ineptly, is to let the criticisms stand.

Sooner or later, the consequence can get ugly and hurtful: no one enjoys criticism or ridicule. This is, by the way, an instance of the larger truth that ideas matter, which explains why some ideas arouse such bitter denunciation and controversy in the first place. This is true of religious ideas and anti-religious ideas alike, and to ideas far afield of religion.

Sooner or later, a person clinging to long-refuted arguments in the teeth of the evidence will be labeled with terms such as unsophisticated, stupid, dull, hidebound, knuckle-dragging, and so on. This is how we roll in free societies. We can say and believe as we wish, but the demand that others agree with us is a demand too far. The demand to that others remain quiet, generous, decorous, and respectful in the face of ideas they detest is a demand too far.

Under conditions of free expression, the way to get rid of an idea one hates -- pro-slavery arguments, racism, sexism, hurtful depictions of gods, anti-science conspiratorial twaddle, numerous accusations of institutionally-condoned child rape, ridicule of cherished taboos, whatever -- is to refute the idea. Expose its flaws and bring others to see those flaws. Subject it to wild-eyed ridicule, or crush it with coolest analytical dispassion, or do some of both.

There is no getting around it, though: the rules of reason, logic, evidence will apply; and the rough norms of public discourse will be in effect.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Praise for TV's Brit Hume

I hate to be a pointlessly contrarian ass about things, but I apparently don't hate it enough to keep my pie-hole shut about the recent Brit Hume vs. Famous Black Golfer kerfuffle. The scowly-faced FoxNews hack uttered the following about Famous Black Golfer on last weekend's episode of whatever FoxNews was broadcasting at its audience of predominantly retarded hayseeds, whiners, dupes, tea-baggers, recently-furloughed Christmas Warriors, and blastocyst enthusiasts:

He [Famous Black Golfer]'s said to be a Buddhist; I don't think that faith offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith. So my message to Tiger would be, 'Tiger, turn to the Christian faith and you can make a total recovery and be a great example to the world.'
Aren't Christians paid -- in the form of promises of heaven, attenuated threats of eternal hellfire, money-saving coupons, and so on -- to say things exactly like this, and to believe them in their precious little hearts? If Christians aren't defined as the people who think a god will favor them for avowing a set of baseless bullshit propositions and rejecting the bullshit propositions (and coupons) of other religious creeds -- Buddhism among dozens of others -- then I've apparently misunderstood what Christians are. But having spent quite a bit of time in their midst, and having avowed the creed myself as a sun-kissed lad, I'm quite sure I "get" it.

I see nothing more outrageous than that Brit Hume is, in the passage cited, speaking as devout Christians speak, condescending as devout Christians condescend, separating the saved from the damned as devout Christians separate the saved from the damned, angling for the money-saving deals for which devout Christians angle, and so on.

I'm unclear on what is outrageous in that. I'll go beyond that and say I like what Hume has done here -- quite unbidden, he has told millions of drooling Fox viewers that Famous Black Golfer's life will never be right unless and until he embraces Brit Hume's god, the one whose scowl is the model of which Hume's is the mere image, the Ticketmaster to heaven's only available seats.

I find it refreshing when Christians such as Hume calmly state that they have all the important answers and that everyone else is bound for confusion, dead-ends, despair, death, condemnation, and countless billions of centuries of anal rape with sharp objects and non-stop re-runs of Mama's Family. We know where they stand. There is no shallow genuflecting at neutrality, ecumenicism, self-doubt, broad-mindedness, fair-and-balanced-ness, or any such fakery.

Statements such as Hume's reveal people such as Hume for what they are: cretins who special-plead a hilariously narrow path through a universe of possible truth-claims, and then have the audacity to call it wisdom, virtue, and righteousness.

Candor is good; candor keeps bullshit-peddlars in the daylight. I say: better a scowling pundit who is willing to openly damn most of the world's people than one who merely pretends not to.

Firmly Against Nostalgia

When were those good old days we're always pining for? This is a fantastic bit of reporting on that question by The Daily Show's John Oliver, and beyond that, the audience's reaction to Glenn Beck's televised tears is alone worth the price of admission:

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Unlike clownish, ranting idiots like Glenn Beck, I am completely immune to nostalgia. This scene, for example, has no effect on me at all; I can't even begin to relate, and can't imagine what anyone sees in it. That I have purchased no fewer than three Kodak Carousels through Craigslist in recent months is of no relevance.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Bad Movie Trends

Everyone is thoroughly, wrist-slittingly sick of year-end and decade-end lists by now, so another can't possibly make things worse. I cast this list of Regrettable Movie Trends of the 2000's before the reader's world-weary attentions, and -- get this! -- I've done so because I agree with almost all of it! Neat. That list, excerpted and [helpfully annotated by me]:

  • 1. Torture Porn ... [Sure, I guess so. I, for one, wish to thank this list for signaling a handful of the emerging torture porn classics I've missed over the past decade. I can't hate them properly unless and until I've watched them several times.]
  • 2. The Desecration Of The Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker Legacy [Indeed. These people, who carry the brutally-killed souls of the makers of Kentucky Fried Movie and Airplane! inside their wretched, still medically-alive bodies, are lately responsible for that unspeakable thing that so ineptly skewered Michael Moore. I like Michael Moore much more than not, but if you can't make a parody of Michael Moore work, it's time to get out of the creative business and go somewhere more befitting your decline -- say, to an opinion-slinging sinecure for one of Rupert Murdoch's media holdings where you can huddle over the final ashes and embers of your inner life. Good luck!]
  • 4. Actors Playing Unlikable People In Unwatchable Indie Oscar Bait ... [OK, but why stop there? How about we begin actively regretting the broader trend of calling movies "indie," as if they're independent of something, let alone in a way that should inspire anyone to notice. The makers and producers of movies try to attract large audiences, make money, do something interesting, make an artistic splash, turn obscure people into famous people, etc. This is true of alleged "indie" studios such as Miramax, and it is just as true of whichever petrochemical concern / international weapons dealer / financial services parasite / manufacturer of erection cures / antisemitic media conglomerate happens to own Miramax this month. In short, let us decry "indie" as a term unless it is followed immediately by a clear statement of the nature and relevance of the independence.]
  • 6. The Continued Descents Of Robert De Niro And Al Pacino ... [Sigh. Either of these names on the marquee has come to indicate a film not worth watching, and as reliably as the name Nicholas Cage. Sad but true.
  • 8. The Return Of The Musical -- Damn you, "Chicago." Damn you to Hell ... [I watched Chicago and kept waiting for the part that was supposed to elevate it above the usual level of execrably unwatchable where all other musicals reside. I have long since pressed stop and yanked the disc out of the player, but the wait endures. Am I the odd duck for finding Richard Gere even less interesting and Catherine Zeta Jones no more lovely while lip-synching? Musicals are for people who like musicals, and that is by far the kindest thing I will ever say of them.]
  • 9. George Lucas Putting The Finishing Touches On Ruining My Childhood By Explaining That Darth Vader Got That Way Because He Didn't Get A Promotion ... [I'm not sure that's a trend, but fair enough -- the development from Anakin the Toe-Headed to Darth the Throat-Crusher was, despite the roomy expanse of three feature-length films in which to unfold, not quite gracefully executed. But in the grand scheme of George Lucas's grand schemes, it was not the worst of the batch. Anakin was not only denied a promotion, but also raked and rattled by the Jedi's faux-Buddhist demand to abandon attachments -- attachments as non-trivial as his slave mom left back on the home planet, and, by the end, his secret hot senator wife. Because of the stupid Jedi code, he never even got the chance to parade her around and make his friends jealous! Certainly no Force-enhanced bachelor's party! Any of us might compensate for deprivations of this magnitude with some extra showy light saber acrobatics, even if it did mean lopping off the heads of dozens of budding Jedi children. And we'd certainly start wearing all black.]
All of these trends will soon be forgotten, but only because they'll be replaced with worse. See you at the theaters!

Stereograms Are Neat. Briefly.

click to embiggen

Have you ever wanted to see an online gallery of stereograms -- or as the pedants term them, autostereograms? If not, do not click on that link.

After what seems like a few minutes of contemplating the many fine choices, my favorite in the gallery is the bee. I want actual bees to be this large, reddish, and, when I am trying to observe them, willing to sit still without stinging.

OK, I am back to being tired of stereograms again.

I'm still not tired of Stereolab! I am delighted to see that someone finally went in and corrected the band's officially-unofficial web site, including, crucially, the songs & lyrics page. It had been rather broken and ill-served for a while. I missed it and I'm glad to see it back to working order.

Darn right "We're Not Adult Orientated" -- and, indeed, it is listed as "orientated" rather than "oriented" on the album (orientated being a valid usage):

Nothing to See Here

I present miscellany, each bullet item less worthwhile than the last:

  • Given that CNN has bothered to pretend that New Year's Eve celebrations in big cities are worth sending celebrities to preside over, the boundary they've drawn around the pretense makes no sense. They are shocked, shocked! that their chosen celebrity co-presider, Kathy Griffin, said a dirty word. Had she avoided the obscenities and stuck with obscene lies, she might still be in CNN's good graces.
  • I don't know what I did to deserve this, but I wish I hadn't done it:

    That is to say, I have done something to convince the brilliant ad-placing minds and bots at Facebook that I have, or have presented myself as the sort of homo sapiens who would be reasonably expected to have, an interest in Legion, whereas, in fact, Legion seems to me a pretty clear case of big-budget Hollywood shit. I expect its Blu-ray disks to start showing up at stores at the $30 price level soon, but not to remain there long and to fall to the Blu-ray "discount" level of $20, and thereupon to moulder on shelves for times best meaured in months. By this time next year, we can expect that the poor sales of Legion disks will contribute no insubstantial share to the sunrise-predictable whining over sluggish Blu-ray sales in 2010 (here is an example of this year's version). Well played, Facebook and whichever gigantic media giant is handling the Legion ads. Well played indeed.
  • The Onion reports, you decide: Slut Spill on I-5!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Or suppose we write as we wish ...

Conor Friedersdorf has a thought:

What if sometimes bloggers approached pieces as a skeptical editor? That posture still involves pointing out the weakest parts of a piece, but the critique is less adversarial — perhaps so much so that folks who’d otherwise dismiss dissent wind up seeing how the weaknesses in their arguments undermine even what they’re trying to accomplish.
Indeed. What if, sometimes, bloggers didn't just state what they find lacking in a piece -- so gauche! -- but instead crafted subtler responses in the form of artful homages or gentle parodies? Maybe such a treatment would bring the two writers to a state of gilded harmony we normally associate with the intoxicating throes of romantic love or the wistful remembrances of childhood friendship, and the internets would feature less screeching and whining.

The End.

(via Rust Belt Philosophy)

Monday, January 4, 2010

Push Ups Do Not Grow on Trees

Via Brian of Lunar Obverse fame, I have become aware of the "one hundred push ups" challenge or program or regimen or aspiration or whatever you'd prefer to call it, and within several minutes of learning of it, I have become angry.

Why? Maybe you can spot the transgression in this screen capture. Hint: it can be found toward the lower-left portion of the graphic:



I am too peeved to drop any more hints: the trouble is "make a donation."

Go ahead, make a donation. Please! Please provide your financial support to this important initiative! I swear on the grave of Karl Rove's second marriage that the link I've provided several times here (and here is another, and another) is legitimate. I will go beyond that and note, without sarcasm, that this particular supplication for funds is as humble and unassuming as they come. Give! Give, damn you, give! Give, I beseech you! Let the 100 Push Up thingy endure by donating to its furtherance!

After all, push ups aren't free. Fitness goals do not just fall from the skies like so many rain drops, pigeon turds, or lightning bolts. The idea of working, in gradual, stepwise fashion, from less-fit to more-fit is hardly the sort of thing that a person can be expected to just dream up, or hear about incidentally, or dredge from the commonest of common sense, or adapt from a non-fitness-related realm of life. Dear me, no.

To the 100 Push Ups person(s): Thanks. Push ups are great, and thanks for outlining a workable fitness program for the world. That said, to re-quote tee-vee's Don Draper, in a moment of pique not unlike the one I'm experiencing just now:

Put your nose down and pay attention to your work, because there's not one thing you've done here that I couldn't live without. You're good. Get better. Stop asking for things.
The same goes for everyone else asking for money whose need is somewhere between synthesized and minor, goddammit. Stop it for twenty minutes, and then add fifteen minutes more the next day. Within a week, you'll be down to not begging for money at all.