Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Links from the sick bed

Two links from our man in the trenches, Mitch.

  • A new study out of Duke University suggests that monkeys and college students--well, Duke undergrads, at any rate--are equals when it comes to mental math.
  • An awesome, long term photo project called " Living My Life Faster - 8 years of JK's Daily Photo Project." Watch this one with the sound off.

Tuesday Links

Three nice links today from Harper's Weekly.

This week:

  • President Bush pardoned 29 criminals, including carjackers, drug dealers, an election-laws violator, and a moonshiner.
  • the American Bar Association named Attorney General Alberto Gonzales lawyer of the year.
  • Vífill Atlason, a 16-year-old Icelandic high school student, was taken into custody by the police and questioned after he dialed President Bush's private number and, claiming to be the President of Iceland, asked to “chat” with Bush. “I don't see,” Atlason said, “how calling the White House is a crime.” [Bush, you just got punked!]
  • And apparently Venezuela, constrained by temporal conformity, has permanently set its clock back half an hour, creating a country-specific time zone.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Art Class

Things are a bit slow in the blog-world today, and I'm not feeling especially ambitious today, so I will content myself with a simple art-related post.

Awhile back I did a couple of posts on modernist painters that I fully intended to make a routing, but I've fallen off the bandwagon, so to speak. Back then, I had intended to do a post on de Chirico, whose landscape paintings are eerie and somehow fascist in feeling. Rather than playing as the art critic today, I'll just post a link to his wiki page and bunch of images. Enjoy.

Giorgio de Chirico (July 10, 1888 – November 20, 1978) also known as Népo, was an influential pre-Surrealist Greek-Italian painter born in Volos, Greece, to a Genovese mother and a Sicilian father. He founded the scuola metafisica art movement.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Pleasures of Mass Destruction

You would think the pope would have better things to do than hyperbolize about the congruence between the mass death of Armageddon and two boys kissing. But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe that stodgy old bastard doesn't have anything to do but be alone with his thoughts.

Pope Says Abortion, Gay Marriage Are 'Obstacles' to World Peace

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Nuclear arms proliferation, environmental pollution and economic inequality are threats to world peace -- but so are abortion, birth control and same-sex marriage, Pope Benedict XVI said in a statement released by the Vatican Tuesday (Dec. 11).

Via Pandagon. Full link here.

Thursday morning tabla fun

Ravi Shankar, Alla Rakha - Tabla Solo in Jhaptal

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

word of the year

Everybody knows that Merriam-Webster does NOT have any sway when it comes to picking the word of the year. That honor belongs to The American Dialect Society (whose choice I am eagerly awaiting).

But M-W picks a word, anyway, and as far as I can tell, they pretty much just randomize these. The winner this year is "w00t." Apparently it has zeroes instead of o's.

From Boing Boing.

w00t is Merriam-Webster's Word of the Year for 2007

Voters at Merriam-Webster's Word of the Year 2007 poll have chosen "w00t" as 2007's most iconic word. M-W says that the word is a gamer's acronym for "we own the other team," but I'm inclined to think that that's a backronym, a back-formed acronym created to explain a word already in use.

1. w00t (interjection)
expressing joy (it could be after a triumph, or for no reason at all); similar in use to the word "yay"

w00t! I won the contest!

Among the other words in the top ten were such lame-ohs as "facebook," "conundrum," "apathetic," "hypocrite," and "charlatan." Though this list may reflect a certain cultural and ideological moment in America, the words are hardly interesting--certainly not worth of attention. The only word that I think even deserves mention is "Pecksniffian." My dad uses this word a lot, which leads me to believe that Bill O'Reilly uses it. Which makes sense, because Bill O'Reilly's a Pecksniffian bastard.


"Waterboarding": simulated drowning, or a new "extreme" sport?

Yesterday on PBS’s Newshour, host Gwen Ifill asked Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO) whether waterboarding constitutes torture. Bond replied that the technique is actually more like “swimming."

From Think Progress.

And on the semantic delicacy of the word "waterboarding," I refer you to Jon Stewart:

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


The absolute best/worst part of this article is the rhetoric from the military that suggests that suicide is the prisoners' form of a public relations war against America. Clearly.
Stay classy, Gitmo. Via, again, Harpers.
'Fingernail slash' at Guantanamo

An inmate at the US detention centre in Guantanamo Bay slashed his throat with a sharpened fingernail, US officials have confirmed.

The prisoner, described by his lawyer as an Algerian held for six years, required several stitches and spent a week under psychiatric observation.

US officials characterised the incident as an act of "self-harm" rather than a suicide attempt.

There are just over 300 prisoners still being held in the base in Cuba.

Detention ruling

The latest incident reportedly took place last month in a shower.

US Navy Cmdr Andrew Haynes said there was "an impressive effusion of blood" but the prisoner was treated by guards and taken to the prison clinic.

Officials would give no details of the man but lawyer Zachary Katznelson said the inmate had been held without charge for nearly six years.

Cmdr Haynes said "self-harm" incidents were a tactic to discredit US forces.

There have been four suicides at the camp.

Two Saudis and a Yemeni prisoner were found hanged in June last year.

This May another Saudi was found not breathing in his cell and attempts to revive him failed.

Co-ordinated suicide attempts last May involving hoarded medicine led to tighter rules on the dispensation of pills.

On Wednesday the US Supreme Court is to hold a hearing on whether the inmates at Guantanamo Bay have the right to contest their detention in US civilian courts.


Via Harpers.

Ga license plate spells antisemitism... almost

For about two months Frank Gumina has driven a 1974 Volkswagen Thing around with a Georgia tag that reads HA8 JWZ.

Gumina saw nothing in the sequence of letters and the numeral 8 except a sequence of letters and the numeral eight. Others did.

"I would be at a grocery store or the Wal-Mart and people would say 'Hate Jews?' or 'Jew Hater?' and I had no idea what they were talking about," Gumina said Friday.

"You know how people just say things that don't make any sense."

Finally, a couple of weeks ago, a mechanic working on Gumina's car sounded out the letters and the numeral on his tag.

"I got it then," said Gumina. "Hate Jews. I realized I had a problem."

Gumina said he made a few calls and ended up talking with the Atlanta office of the Anti-Defamation League and the Georgia Department of Revenue, which handles license plates in the state.

The state has a database of about 8,500 tag number letter sequences that it blocks from being made into license plates, said Department of Revenue Spokesman Charles Willey.

The state on Friday said it will now prohibit auto tags that begin with HA8 or H8 to prevent any accidental or intentional messages of hate.

Tags on the blocked list included, for instance, "MAFIA," "AZZ KICKER," and "KKK." The system also blocks any tag that reads as any combination of words that can be read as curse words or racial slurs, or anything that starts with the word 'EAT'," said Willey.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Cultural Implement

I have to admit that I've never really understood toothpicks. Sure, I'll pick one up every now and then, but I've never had the uncontrollable postprandial urge that would make me buy them for daily use. For use in baking, sure -- but for a little after-meal help, never.

But I'm coming around to appreciate the toothpick. The American has a piece up about the history of the toothpick, which is kind of interesting, in part because of the totally outrageous marketing of America's toothpick pioneer, Charles Forster, who lifted the idea from Brazil.

Forster was soon making toothpicks in Boston, but people there did not see much point in buying quantities of what they could whittle themselves. To sell his product, Forster devised clever schemes. He hired employees to visit stores and ask for wooden toothpicks, which retailers were not accustomed to carrying. Soon after these disappointed customers left, Forster himself would come in peddling his wares wholesale. As soon as the storekeepers had toothpicks in stock, Forster’s shills would return and buy them. These were then returned to Forster, who recycled them to the trade.

In another scheme, he engaged Harvard students to eat at local restaurants and ask loudly for wooden toothpicks, which the restaurant managers soon felt obligated to provide. Having established a mar­ket in the Boston area, Forster moved his fledgling manufacturing operation to Maine, where white birch grew in abundance. With the help of Charles Freeman—a Sturtevant employee who had been assigned to develop the toothpick machinery—Forster’s mill was soon turning out toothpicks by the millions daily.


Thank you to Gerry Cananvan for passing along the most depressing link I am likely to see this year: Things Other People Accomplished When They Were Your Age

Here's mine:

At age 26:

American anthropologist Margaret Mead wrote her famous dissertation, Coming of Age in Samoa, which claimed that in some societies adolescence is not a particularly difficult time.

Albert Einstein published five major research papers in a German physics jornal, fundamentally changing man's view of the universe and leading to such inventions as television and the atomic bomb.

Benjamin Franklin published the first edition of Poor Richard's Almanac, which was to play a large role in molding the diverse American character.

Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Chereshkova became the first woman to travel in space.

College dropout Steve Wozniak co-founded Apple Computer.

Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin, revolutionizing the economies of the United States and Britain.

Napoleon Bonaparte conquered Italy.

British ethologist Jane Goodall set up camp in the Gombe Stream Chimpanzee Reserve on Lake Tanganyika and began studying the lives of chimpanzees.

Ken Kesey published his first novel, One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest.

Thomas Pynchon published V., for which he won the William Faulkner First Novel Award.

Friday, December 7, 2007


Two nice stories today from the domain of antiquarian relics.

  • The BBC is reporting that Michelangelo's last sketch, depicting the stone work for St. Peter's Bascillica, has been found in a Vatican archive.
  • The NYT is reporting that the Magna Carta is for sale. Apparently they mean a copy of the early British law, not the law itself. There's a cool feature where you can look at a high resolution image of the actual document. Although owning such a document would be pretty sweet, I am told that the Magna Carta was deemed important only retroactively, after it had been rediscovered. In other words, it's a pure fiction that the document is a "foundational" text of modern democracy. But, hey, if Sotheby's thinks it "forever changed the relationship between the monarchy and those it governed," that's just great. But it's a lie. Bid away!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

My Bug Could Paint That


Hey, elephants and chimps (and children) can do a pretty good job of abstract painting, so why not bugs? Artist Steven R. Kutcher dips the creepy crawlers in (watercolor) paint, or has them traipse through it, and then he lets them scurry across the canvas (watercolor paper).

From BoingBoing.

Dead White Guys

Sometimes cultural studies is an afterthought to a museum exhibition; sometimes it is integral to it. Marianna Torgovnick, Duke spy in New York, reports in the Chronicle.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007


The Library of Babel, or just modernist governmentality?

From Metafilter.

An obscure 1911 British law requires a copy of every published book, journal, newspaper, patent, sound recording, magazine etc.. to be permanently archived in at least one of five libraries around the country. The British Library has the most complete collection and is currently adding about 12.5km of new shelf space a year of mostly unheard of and unwanted stuff. A new state-of-the-art warehouse is being constructed with 262 linear kilometers of high-density, fully automated storage in a low-oxygen temperature controlled environment. It is not a library, it is a warehouse for "things that no one wants." BLDG Blog ponders on what it all means.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

There's always 2012

Apparently Al Gore is not going to be the next president. From The Lede.

Al Gore is not running for president — not yet, anyway, his most ardent supporters would say –- but the campaign to draft him in New York lives, if only on life support, in an apartment on East 84th Street.

Yes, the local “Draft Gore” campaign rests in several neat stacks of nomination petitions, on a campaign table next to “Gore for President” buttons, stickers and fliers. The table is in the modest, rent-stabilized apartment of Robert Plautz, 60 a tax lawyer and longtime Democratic activist. Mr. Plautz helped organize a last-ditch effort to put Mr. Gore on the Democratic primary ballot in New York State with a signature-gathering mission to persuade the former vice president to run again.

The petitioners began on Oct. 30 and, since Mr. Gore did not publicly tell such “Draft Gore” groups across the country to stop, they continued to gather 2,352 signatures in New York State on dozens of petitions. Finally, on Nov. 13, a Gore representative sent an e-mail message urging them to desist.

What did you ever do?

I saved Latin. And Latin could save politics. Or so Harry Mount at the NYT thinks.

Of course, it's hard to take Mr. Mount seriously. Not with a name like that.

On Silliness: A Trans-Atlantic Approach

The BBC seems to have a knack for reporting stories that make Americans look silly. But I guess I really shouldn't blame them for our silliness. They're just doing their job.

Rich US dog hiding after threats

A dog which inherited $12m (£5.8m) from late New York hotelier Leona Helmsley is in hiding after it was targeted by death threats, US media say.

Trouble, a white Maltese that belonged to the billionaire until her death in August, was flown by private jet to Florida, the New York Post reported.

It says the tiny bitch was whisked away under an assumed name after receiving about 20 threats.

Trouble is said to have earned a number of enemies due to its habit of biting.

Under an assumed name? Have we all gone mad, or are we just kidding ourselves?

While we're on the topic of silliness, why not a bit English silliness? Have a nice day.

Monday, December 3, 2007


The pay phone's day of reckoning draws nigh.

War on Global Warming

AlterNet has a link to a Nation article by Naomi Cline about the weapons industry and environmentalism.

In the world of venture capitalism, there has been a race going on between greens on the one hand and guns and garrisons on the other -- and the guns are winning.

Anyone tired of lousy news from the markets should talk to Douglas Lloyd, director of Venture Business Research, a company that tracks trends in venture capitalism. "I expect investment activity in this sector to remain buoyant," he said recently. His bouncy mood was inspired by the money gushing into private security and defense companies. He added, "I also see this as a more attractive sector, as many do, than clean energy."

Got that? If you are looking for a sure bet in a new growth market, sell solar, buy surveillance; forget wind, buy weapons.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

And for dessert, we have electrodes

Tasered on Thanksgiving. Maybe the hastiest use of a taser I have yet seen.

From the Austin American-Statesman:

After an investigation, the department’s Internal Affairs office saw no need for disciplinary action. http://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gifBut then-Acting Chief Cathy Ellison reviewed it and ordered a three-day suspension for O’Connor, who served it and then returned to duty.

When Art Acevedo, the new chief from California, saw the video, he strongly disapproved of O’Connor’s action but saw in the footage what some would call “a teaching moment.” He released the video, told officers to watch it, and made it clear that any officer who did the same as O’Connor would be in serious trouble. The chief’s warning was appropriate and welcome.

Via Cynical-C.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Oh course they beat me

Waiting for Godot. In New Orleans.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


Waiting For The Guards is the first of 3 films commissioned by Amnesty to highlight the enhanced interrogation techniques used by the CIA in the “War on Terror”.

The Directors approached the making of the film in a way that has never been done before, choosing to show the reality of Stress Positions in as authentic a way as possible. They filmed a person being put into Stress Positions over a 6 hour period. There is no acting on the part of the “prisoner” – his pain and anguish is for real.


Tuesday, November 27, 2007


Radioactive Ammunition Fired in Middle East May Claim More Lives Than Hiroshima and Nagasaki

By firing radioactive ammunition, the U.S., U.K., and Israel may have triggered a nuclear holocaust in the Middle East that, over time, will prove deadlier than the U.S. atomic bombing of Japan.

So much ammunition containing depleted uranium(DU) has been fired, asserts nuclear authority Leuren Moret, "The genetic future of the Iraqi people for the most part, is destroyed."

"More than ten times the amount of radiation released during atmospheric testing (of nuclear bombs) has been released from depleted uranium weaponry since 1991," Moret writes, including radioactive ammunition fired by Israeli troops in Palestine.

Link. Via Harper's Weekly Index.

Monday, November 26, 2007

If you're happy and you know it

Kent French is the world's fastest clapper. Via Metafilter.

721 Claps Per Second - Free videos are just a click away

I once saw a slightly toned down version of this at a STOMP performance, and have since wanted to learn how to drum by double-clapping, but it is not easy.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Taser Happy

More tasers.

An internal police investigation is under way after a formal complaint was filed against a Utah state trooper who was videotaped Tasering a man who refused to sign a speeding ticket.

The officer’s conduct has been called into question after a videotape of the incident was posted on YouTube.

The video, taken from a Utah Highway Patrol dashboard camera, shows Trooper John Gardner using a Taser on Jared Massey during a traffic stop on State Road 40 in Uintah County on Sept. 14.

“We do have an open internal review, or investigation, of the case,” Sgt. Jeff Nigbur, a spokesman for the Utah Department of Public Safety, told FOXNews.com. “We’re trying to expedite that to get that done as quickly as possible. If the trooper acted inappropriately we will definitely, absolutely, take the appropriate measures to resolve that.”

Via Cynical C.

UPDATE: A commentator at Cynical-C provides a link to a truly horrifying discussion of this video by police officers. Yikes.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Drum Warfare

Buddy Rich battles with Animal on The Muppet Show.

Via BoingBoing.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Good News For Me

Who can tell me what those elitist, left-wing bastards of the ivory tower do all day? Anyone? Anyone?

A: Nothing. Except bitch and wine about capitalism and how all their precious sinecures are being taken away from them.

Well, the NYT, that bastion of libearlism, suggests that those namby-pamby, effete dillettantes are not happy about it. Apparently, the intelligentsia is getting upset. Apparently those bloviating masters of sophism are mad that all their jobs are being outsourced. Apparently doing so diminishes the quality of higher education. Who knew!

It appears those lazy, novel-reading, want-to-be-writers may have a good thing coming.

The shift from a tenured faculty results from financial pressures, administrators’ desire for more flexibility in hiring, firing and changing course offerings, and the growth of community colleges and regional public universities focused on teaching basics and preparing students for jobs.

But it has become so extreme that some universities are pulling back, concerned about the effect on educational quality. Rutgers University in New Jersey agreed in a labor settlement in August to add 100 tenure or tenure-track positions. Across the country, faculty unions are organizing part-timers. And the American Federation of Teachers is pushing legislation in 11 states to mandate that 75 percent of classes be taught by tenured or tenure-track teachers.

Via, that bastion of liberalism, the NYT.

More tasers

Your daily taser-death story. Via Thomas.

A 20-year-old man died Sunday after being shot with a Taser device during a scuffle with a sheriff's deputy in Maryland, a spokeswoman for the Frederick County Sheriff's Office said.

Amnesty International blames dozens of deaths on police use of stun guns.

Cpl. Jennifer Bailey said deputies responding to a report of a fight in progress arrived at the location in Frederick, Maryland, just before 5 a.m. ET and found four people fighting.

A deputy used a Taser device on one of the men, who fell unconscious, Bailey said.

The man was taken to Frederick Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. His identity was not immediately released, pending the notification of his family.

And here's a link to Amnesty International's page on Taser abuse, including reports from 2004 and 2006, as well as recent Taser-related news. Here's the blurb on the page:
Since June 2001, there have been more than 270 TASER-related deaths in the United States. AI is concerned that TASERs are being used as tools of routine force--rather than as weapons of last resort. Rigorous, independent, impartial study of their use and effects is urgently needed.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Get out of bed, you old coot.

Secret villainy in Wonka. Via metafiler.

We know this is the quintessential question. After all, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is a well-loved movie based on the wonderful book Charlie and Chocolate Factory. Parents love it, children love it, heck, we even love it.

That does not mean it is perfect.

Our goal is to expose the dark underbelly of the story. To reveal once and for all the truth about the only real villain in the movie (and no, it is not Slugworth). It is Grandpa Joe.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Monday, November 12, 2007

Tasers Tasers Tasers

Tasers in the news, via Gerry.

A mentally-ill, 82-year old woman was tasered on Tuesday.
A 40-year-old Polish immigrant was tasered to death on Oct. 26th, 24 seconds after the police arrived.
And a 68-year-old stroke victim was tasered yesterday on suspicion of double parking.

It's getting sillier and sillier.

Sharp Tongue

"You are ignoramus, you are a burro, Mr Danger... or to say it to you in my bad English: [switching languages] You are a donkey, Mr Danger. You are a donkey, Mr George W Bush.

[Returning to Spanish] You are a coward, a killer, a [perpetrator of] genocide, an alcoholic, a drunk, a liar, an immoral person, Mr Danger. You are the worst, Mr Danger. The worst of this planet... A psychologically sick man, I know it."

The BBC has a list of fine (and not so fine) put-downs issued by Chavez. Enjoy.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


Every week I thank Kendra for introducing me to the Harper's "Weekly Review."

And this week's review made me laugh out loud in the library.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice painted an
upcoming U.S.-sponsored Middle East peace conference as a
"moment of opportunity" for Israelis and Palestinians,
while film director David Lynch claimed that 250 experts
in Transcendental Meditation could end that conflict by
dissolving "the suffocating rubber clown suit" of hatred.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


Seems unlikely to Bitter Laughter, but it does make one wonder -- am I related to Dick Cheney? Let us hope not.

My condolences to the Obama family (the Cheney side excluded) for their bad news.

They may be polar opposites politically but US Vice-President Dick Cheney and Democratic candidate Barack Obama are related, Mr Cheney's wife says.

Lynne Cheney said she had discovered while doing family research for a new book that her husband and the Illinois senator were eighth cousins.

She said she traced a common ancestor of the two men to be a 17th century immigrant from France.

. . .

Mr Obama's spokesman, Bill Burton, responded to the news by saying: "Every family has a black sheep."

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Deep Fried

State Fair Food: so delicious!

This food all looks pretty great, but as with most Fair Food, I'm guessing it looks (and sounds) a lot better than it tastes. (Deep friend snickers bars, for example, bring together flavors and textures that may be complimentary, but in no universe is such a combination necessary or desirable).

I'm holding out for the day when I will finally behold a staple of State Fair food fun: the butter sculpture. I guess they don't make butter sculptures in Texas.

Thanks, Metafilter.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Taser Sales Up; Police Competence Down

The Lede has a couple of good posts today, one about the findings of the LAPD about their mishandling of a May Day protest last year, and another about everyone's favorite non-leathal weapon, the taser. Of course these postings seems natural right next to each other since it's hard to think about police brutality and incompetence and not think about tasers. According to the Lede, taser sales are going up despite the cries against it of late, especially the very public tasering of a student in Florida. According to the statistic's of the Lede's article, recent studies of tasers have shown that the weapon is as non-lethal as TASER International has avowed all along.

So, here's a question: If we presume for a second that taser are not lethal and do no serious harm to a significant portion of the population, does that justify their use? That is, if science deems tasers humane, does that change our attitude about the reasonableness of their use? It is on the strength of the argument that tasers are humane, after all, that sales are up and tasers are proliferating.

I feel that what is fundamentally at issue with the use of tasers is not the danger they pose to civilians. Yes, very few people die after being tasered; yes, most can get up and walk away (after a few minutes of utter decapacitation and intense pain). The question is whether law makers and communities feel that they help promote more humane means of policing. What the experience of the LA riots last May show is not that tasers injure people, but rather that they are a crutch on which undertrained, poorly supervised, unaccountable, and power-hungry police officers inflict pain upon civilians. It is precisely because tasers are non-lethal weapons that they can be used so widely so flagrantly against civilians. The issue isn't weather or not tasers are dangerous, but rather whether or not we want police to be given such free reign to inflict violence on the population, especially as a shortcut to adequate training.

Here's an idea: give all cops a taser, fine. But tase them first so that they remember what it feels like. That might significantly cut down on the incidence of grievous abuses of weaponry in this country.

The Future is Bright (and Gravity-free)

File under the big fat lies my grade school teachers told me about the perfect future that lay just around the bend.

In 1918, long before George Jetson commuted to Spacely Space Sprockets, the U.S. Patent Office issued Felix Longobardi the first patent for a vehicle capable of both driving on roads and flying through the air. But given all the impractical prototypes built since Longobardi's original whimsy, history suggests that any vehicle design combining these two modes of transport will be a commercial failure: aero-auto hybrids always seem to result in a compromise that serves both functions poorly.

Now a group of MIT alums believe that they are on their way toward overcoming this problem. Founded in 2006 and called Terrafugia, their startup, based in Woburn, MA, recently produced the first automated folding wing for a light sport aircraft. (A light sport aircraft is a type of airplane deemed by the Federal Aviation Administration to be easier to fly and hence more accessible than regular private planes.) The wing, however, is just the first step toward an aero-auto hybrid that the company plans to call the Transition.
I'll believe it when I drive it. Via Gerry Canavan.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

North, East, South and West of Tikrit somewhat

GOP candidate Fred Thompson on October 1:

"We can't forget the fact that although at a particular point in time we never found any WMD down there [Saddam Hussein] clearly had had WMD. . . He clearly had had the beginnings of a nuclear program. And in my estimation his intent never did change. And by today, he clearly would have had that rejuvenated."
Something tells me that this man isn't the right fit for this job.

Via Harper's.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Columbus Day

Mark Twain once remarked of Christopher Columbus that "it was wonderful to find America—but it would have been more wonderful to miss it."

A good point he had, too.

Columbus knew what he was about when he sent word home.

"They... brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for the glass beads and hawks' bells. They willingly traded everything they owned.... They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features.... They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane.... They would make fine servants.... With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want."

Via Howard Zinn.

Oh, and there's always this classic quote on the deep deep roots of American spirituality:

"Gold is most excellent; gold constitutes treasure; and he who has it does all he wants in the world, and can even lift souls up to Paradise."

Happy Columbus Day.

Saturday, September 29, 2007


Bitter Laughter continues to turn its eye to the topic of academic freedom.

And today's Inside Higher Education has a really startling piece about Ahmadinejad's speech at NYU which says as much about the state of American politics as it does about academic freedom.

What Ought Whom You Invite to Speak

It’s fair to say that Columbia University has heard more than an earful over its decision to offer a speaking platform this week to Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Reaction ranged widely, with many condemning the university for inviting the controversial leader, others praising Columbia’s president, Lee C. Bollinger, for sternly rebuking the Iranian president while he looked on, and some doing both. Opinions flowed freely.

On Wednesday, one vehement critic, with a prominent platform of his own, went a large step further. U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, a Californian who is also a longshot candidate (to be generous) for the Republican nomination for president, introduced legislation that would “prohibit federal grants to or contracts with Columbia University.” The text of the legislation — which college officials called “unprecedented” — was not yet available on any government Web sites.
Of course, this legislation isn't going anywhere. But the very fact that anybody in politics would think of penalizing an institution for promoting dialogue is simply asinine. Look at the much-watched video of Ahmadinejad responding to the question of gay rights. Is the bitter laughter of the crowd not amazingly powerful manifestation of the dialogical spirit?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Creative Thinking

Like a lot of people, I neglect the magazines I subscribe to. When I do read them, I am usually reminded why I subscribe.

And this month's Harper's has a truly great article that offers a novel way by which we the people can stop this war: a general strike.

Of all the various depredations of the Bush regime, none has been so thorough as its plundering of hope. Iraq will recover sooner. What was supposed to have been the crux of our foreign policy—a shock-and-awe tutorial on the utter futility of any opposition to the whims of American power—has achieved its greatest and perhaps its only lasting success in the American soul. You will want to cite the exceptions, the lunch-hour protests against the war, the dinner-party ejaculations of dissent, though you might also want to ask what substantive difference they bear to grousing about the weather or even to raging against the dying of the light—that is, to any ritualized complaint against forces universally acknowledged as unalterable. Bush is no longer the name of a president so much as the abbreviation of a proverb, something between Murphy’s Law and tomorrow’s fatal inducement to drink and be merry today.

If someone were to suggest, for example, that we begin a general strike on Election Day, November 6, 2007, for the sole purpose of removing this regime from power, how readily and with what well-practiced assurance would you find yourself producing the words “It won’t do any good”? Plausible and even courageous in the mouth of a patient who knows he’s going to die, the sentiment fits equally well in the heart of a citizen-ry that believes it is already dead.

What I really like about this article, too, is that Garret Keizer is finely attuned to the way in which we have become inured to this war such that "normal life" continues apace while Blackwater (and our army, too, let's not forget) shoots people down in the street.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

3 months until Chrismas

It's never too early to start shopping. I, personally, am already making my list.

I'm not in the habit of asking for things I don't think I deserve, and, well, I deserve this.

The BBC is already on top of this sure-to-delight item:

A former US intercontinental ballistic missile base - with a network of underground tunnels and silos, but no nuclear warheads - is on sale on eBay for $1.5m (£750,000, 1.06m euros).

Located in a remote corner of Washington state and still ringed by its original barbed-wire-topped fence, the 56-acre site is being marketed as a "gorgeous" property and potential resort.

If you know me (or even if you don't), please consider buying this for me. If you do, I'll have you over to play laser tag.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

In the news

  • A flaming object has fallen out of the sky in Peru and is making people ill.
  • Yet another fringe benefit for those who will not immediately perish from global warming: the receding ice has opened up the Northwest Passage.
  • And, yes, we do live a police state. As I understand it, it's not technically illegal to ask John Kerry a question, but you will be tazed if you go over your allotted time. Yet the latest installment of my favorite youtube video genre, "police go crazy and taze the shit out of a good citizen." Via the Lede.

By the way, does anybody happen to know what happened to the cops who savagely tazed the UCLA student last January?

Monday, September 17, 2007

Pure Joy

Once again Samuel Beckett proves his enduring populism and relevance across social milieus (most specifically here, across the generations).

I give you, Beckett for Babies.

Via the biggest baby of them all, Gerry Canavan.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Know Your Rights

Don't you just love those non-binding UN votes?

From Al Jazeera:

UN adopts indigenous rights bill

The UN General Assembly has adopted a declaration of rights for indigenous peoples despite opposition from several developed states.
The US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand said it gave excessive property and legal powers to indigenous peoples.
This has been on Bush's radar-screen for awhile.

And just for good measure, a little Clash to brighten your day:

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Academic Freedom Part II: The Revenge

And just so there's no doubt in anybody's mind that academic freedom is a real issue with real consequences for delimiting what is sayable--and thus thinkable--I give you another link from today's LA Times.

Chemerinsky says UC Irvine rescinds offer to become law school dean

The constitutional scholar says university officials told him the deal was off to head the new school because he was too 'politically controversial.' Just days after he signed a contract to become the first dean of UC Irvine's new law school, Erwin Chemerinsky was told this week that the deal was off because he was too "politically controversial."

Chemerinsky said in an interview today that UC Irvine Chancellor Michael V. Drake had flown to North Carolina on Tuesday and told him at a hotel near the airport that that he did not realize the extent to which there were "conservatives out to get me."
Great. Now administrators are so worried about coming under the watchful eye of Gestapo that they're self-censoring and hiring to please the academic police. That's just great.

Thanks to Bill, Monu and Andy for the various links.

Academic Freedom and the Media

The web is abuzz with chatter about academic freedom today.

John Leo at the Washington Post hates all left wing radical professors in the humanities, and champions the work of groups that monitor their efforts to indoctrinate the youth.

A curtain has been drawn around the academy, inside of which the protection of certain favored ideas trumps intellectual exchange and the search for truth.
I am reluctant to quote any more of the piece than this because it's little more than an advertisement for a group that monitors intellectual discourse for signs of partisanship. But his position is clear enough: the hate-mongering professors in the ivory tower hate America and will do anything to enforce and spread their leftist ideology.

Michael Bérubé isn't so sure. In an article at Inside Higher Education, Bérubé discusses how wrong this view of the academy is. He's part of a group entitled the American Association of University Professors’ Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure, which has drafted a statement on “Freedom in the Classroom" about the nature of classroom discussions in higher education and intellectual freedom:

The statement takes up the right’s four most prominent complaints about professors’ classroom demeanor: “(1) instructors ‘indoctrinate’ rather than educate; (2) instructors fail fairly to present conflicting views on contentious subjects, thereby depriving students of educationally essential ‘diversity’ or ‘balance’; (3) instructors are intolerant of students’ religious, political, or socioeconomic views, thereby creating a hostile atmosphere inimical to learning; and (4) instructors persistently interject material, especially of a political or ideological character, irrelevant to the subject of instruction.” In its discussion of “indoctrination,” for example, the statement argues that: “It is not indoctrination for an economist to say to his students that in his view the creation of markets is the most effective means for promoting growth in underdeveloped nations, or for a biologist to assert his belief that evolution occurs through punctuated equilibriums rather than through continuous processes. Indoctrination occurs only when instructors dogmatically insist on the truth of such propositions by refusing to accord their students the opportunity to contest them. Vigorously to assert a proposition or a viewpoint, however controversial, is to engage in argumentation and discussion — an engagement that lies at the core of academic freedom.”

This, too, should go without saying — but because it doesn’t, conservative ideologues (whose names are just at the tip of my tongue) have been able to mount campaigns against individual professors and entire campuses based on the most specious of assumptions. In North Carolina, for instance, a group calling itself the Committee for a Better North Carolina complained bitterly that the University of North Carolina had assigned Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed to incoming students. Do such people really need to be told, in the words of the AAUP statement, that “it is fundamental error to assume that the assignment of teaching materials constitutes their endorsement”? Do we really need to explain in so many words that “classroom discussion of Nickel and Dimed in North Carolina could have been conducted in a spirit of critical evaluation, or in an effort to understand the book in the tradition of American muckraking, or in an effort to provoke students to ask deeper questions about their own ideas of poverty and class”? Yes and yes.
This Bérubé piece is excellent, and a much needed reminder (for me) about the coming show-down between legislators and academics about the nature of higher education. Additionally, it is potent reminder of the way the media portrays us in the academy--as craven hippies whose sole aim is to indoctrinate the weak-mined fools that enter our classrooms with the foul excrescence of Communist ideology.

I suppose it's never occurred to the talking heads that the worst place to indoctrinate people is college, and the best is preschool. It's not a coincidence, after all, that every American child learns the pledge of allegiance at age 4.

[By the way, the academy was scrutinized in the 1980s by a group called Truth in Academia (I think) for questioning the justice of the American war on Nicaragua. Some things never change.]

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

It's Tuesday again

It's 9/11, and the internet is wide awake.

Gary Kamiya over at Salon.com is thinking about "the real lessons" of 9/11. This is a good piece because it takes the long view of how 9/11 has been used for political ends, places it in historical perspective, and incisively articulates the sense of determinism that has characterized post-9/11 foreign policy.
Petraeus' evaluation can only be "anxiously awaited" by people who are still anxiously waiting for Godot. We know what will happen next because we've been watching this movie for eight months. Gen. Petraeus, Bush's mighty-me, will insist that we're making guarded progress. Bush, whose keen grasp of military reality is reflected in his recent boast that "we're kicking ass" in Iraq, will promise that he will reassess the situation in April. The Democrats will flail their puny arms, the zombie Republicans will keep following orders, and the troops will stay.
. . .

Sept. 11 is a totemic date for the Bush administration. It justifies everything, explains everything, ends all argument. It is the crime that must be eternally punished, the wound that can never heal, the moral high ground that can never be taken.
Slate.com is laying off the 9/11 story and examining the new bin Laden video, "before it is forgotten in the coming debate on Gen. David Petraeus' Iraq report." This piece is slightly alarmist; Anne Applebaum worries that al-Qaida's new turn in public relations could seduce westerners, the consequences of which, she says, would be horrific.
Real or fake, the message might still hint at the direction in which al-Qaida propaganda, or at least al-Qaida propaganda designed for the Western market, is now heading. In a recent Slate piece, Reza Aslan eloquently described how the organization's list of alleged "grievances"—which now include global warming, corporate capitalism, and African poverty, as well as the American bases in Saudi Arabia—weave "local and global resentments into a single anti-American narrative, the overarching aim of which is to form a collective identity across borders and nationalities." But the narrative clearly isn't meant for only the Arab world. On the contrary, perhaps it's time to take the main message seriously: Clearly, al-Qaida's long-term goal is to convert Americans and other Westerners to its extreme version of Islam.
See yesterday's post on the new bin Laden video here.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Rich

This might be the single most masterfully written piece of preeminence these eyes of have ever seen.

Then again, it could be satire. But my very inability to decide whether this is the author's real opinion or not makes the true nature of the author's intent sort of irrelevant.

Lessons that Michael Lewis has learned from the subprime mortgage fiasco.

1) The poor are "masters of public relations."

2) "Poor people don't respect other people's money in the way money deserves to be respected."

3) He has "grown out of touch with `poor culture.'"

[This point is really beautiful. Lewis wonders--in a public forum, mind you--if his distance from 'poor culture' began when he "stopped flying commercial" or when he "gave up the bleacher seats and got the suite." Yes, we all feel very sorry for you and the downturn the market has taken.]

4) "Our society is really, really hostile to success. At the same time it's shockingly indulgent of poor people."

[In this point, Lewis strains to veer his column away from farce. He proposes a 'solution' to the problem: give the poor work. "Some of these poor people must have skills. The ones that don't could be trained to do some of the less skilled labor -- say, working as clowns at rich kids' birthday parties."]

5) "I think it's time we all become more realistic about letting the poor anywhere near Wall Street."

Via Feministe!

God Bless the Internet

A severely underrated movie, RAD is one of my all time favorite 80s movies. This film nearly departed my memory altogether. Thank you internet gods!

(The trailer is actually less than 2 minutes and worth every second of it.)

And for the world's most radical 1980s prom scene, see here.

Two Minutes Hate

You may have missed it, but Emmanuel Goldstein Osama bin Laden released a video statement on Friday. The New York Times covered it for about half a second. It was his first such statement in three years. And apart from some speculations about the video itself (rather than the message) and some chatter about whether or not Osama dies his beard, there was virtually no media coverage of it.

For those who might possibly be interested in hearing what Osama bin Laden has to say, in his own words, check out the video here. (It seems the Ministry of Information has been here: the video hardly to be found on the internet and the transcript seems to no longer be available from Fox. I am hosting the transcript on my webspace here.)

I was struck by the decidedly communist tone he takes here, as well as the sense of religious tolerance for Judaism that is advanced in lockstep with the usual Islamic evangelism. As before, Osama bin Laden proves himself to be a close observer of American life (he even references the mortgage woes of the last month). What seems to me more important than anything, however, is not the message itself, but the utter disregard this country shows for the views of our ostensible enemy. Aren't we waging wars against this man? And yet there seems to be some kind of anxiety--even fear--about listening to what he has to say. Two years ago when I taught 1984, I realized that not a single person in my class knew what Osama bin Laden really wanted--what his grievances were, what his ideology looks like, etc. All they knew was that he was inimical to "us," and that he was the enemy. "Enmity" is mightily empty category, and a dangerous one at that, if you refuse to allow it to have content.

And that's exactly what bin Laden is for Americans, an enemy without content. The fact of the matter is that Osama bin Laden is not isomorphic with himself. That is, "Osama bin Laden," as that name is understood in this country, is a simulacrum of the actual man. We do not need to listen to what he has to say because we know what he is -- after all, he is our creation. He represents for us something to fight against, the implement against which we sharpen our knives and define ourselves. His words are not relevant since they communicate a version of himself that does not square with our understanding of him. Why would we both listen or give credence to his video musings?

The real education is not, I think, in bin Laden's message itself. There we will find his version of a PR campaign; the video is a well rehearsed statement of ideology designed to appeal to as wide a swath of people as possible. The real meaning behind the video lies in the void in which it is submitted. Osama bin Laden's attempts to publish himself are denied, and "enmity" remains an empty category that we can fill with content when and where it is convenient.

Friday, September 7, 2007

It's Booker Time

The Booker Prize folks have released their short list for this year's prize. And the list looks a lot like it did in the last few years--filled with authors with small reputations and tiny distributions, and one Goliath to lend the crew legitimacy. This reminds me, in fact, of the list two years ago, when John Banville's excellent novel The Sea took the prize, even though only about 3,300 copies of it had been sold.

Here's this year's list:

  • Darkmans by Nicola Barker
  • The Gathering by Anne Enright
  • The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
  • Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones
  • On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan
  • Animal’s People by Indra Sinha
Some people have been angry about the prize's turn away from Big Names, but I welcome it. I can't say I all that happy about seeing Ian McEwan on the list again. It sometimes seems like the giants of English publishing get on the list just because of who they are, as when Rushdie's book Shalimar the Clown made its way onto the long list in 2005. In any event, I look forward to reading one or two of these books in the next year.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Matthew Broderick, Pt. 3

I know the standard objection people make about Glory -- that its anti-racist content is somewhat less effective (even contradicted) by writer's desire to narrate the story of black soldiers in the American Civil War ifrom the perspective of their white commander. But it's a good movie. Matthew Broderick rounds out the 1980s with grandeur.

IMDB has a rather more dramatic trailer here.

Matthew Broderick, Pt. 2

And the trailer for another fine Matthew Broderick 80s movie, Project X. This one gives rather too much of the plot away, I think.

Matthew Broderick, Pt. 1

In homage to Gerry Canavan's motto this week, "The only winning move is not to play," I offer the trailer to the wonderful 1983 Matthew Broderick film, War Games.

Saturday, September 1, 2007


I have just seen the future, and it's a cleaner, happier, toilet paper-free time. It looks parodicly blissful, almost like the promo for Life Extension in Vanilla Sky.

Thursday, August 30, 2007


Buddy Rich drum solo.

Via Cynical-C.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


"Our task must be to free ourselves . . . by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty."

"Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances of survival for life on earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet."

- Albert Einstein

Didn't we all already know that vegetarians, in addition to being super-sweet and totally awesome, are also smarter than everybody else?

But now science has proved it:

High IQ link to being vegetarian

Intelligent children are more likely to become vegetarians later in life, a study says.

A Southampton University team found those who were vegetarian by 30 had recorded five IQ points more on average at the age of 10.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

I Know a Monkey That Needs a Tickle

Now, this might come as a surprise to those of you who know that I am studying to get a PhD in English, but I didn't read that much as a kid. Usually when the topic of favorite childhood books comes up, my friends list series after series of books that they loved. To this conversation, I can add only that I enjoyed the Matt Christopher series, and when I explain that these were sports books, everyone gives me a kind of irritated look before they return to comparing their adolescent tastes and fantasies.

Mostly I went in for picture books. And there's no beating The Little Mr. and Little Miss series. So when I mentioned them to Kendra the other day (she's Little Miss Impatient, I've determined), she did a little investigatory journalism and unearthed this startling website.

So they're making it into a show. I can't complain about that, because, after all, the only thing better than picture books is t.v. But what I don't understand is the marketing. The website suggests that the inteded age group is 4-7, but the humor seems more appropriate for, well, someone like me. Is it sad that I still laugh OUT LOUD when I hear cartoon characters say "poop"? I think that's all Mr. Bump says. And on the website, you can make seagulls shit on Mr. Grumpy's head. Hilarious! Oh, if only I had a t.v. In the meantime, enjoy the website. God that Mr. Grumpy's a bastard! Poop!

Update: I have seen two (TWO!) Little Ms. t-shirts in the last two days. I'm sensing a resurgence of the 1970s zeitgeist the birthed this series.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Weird News

The BBC is my favorite source for weird news. Generally, they love to print any strange news item if it makes Americans look bad (can't blame them for that), but today's weird news item is just bad form for humanity in general.

Woman jailed for testicle attack

A woman who ripped off her ex-boyfriend's testicle with her bare hands has been sent to prison.

Amanda Monti, 24, flew into a rage when Geoffrey Jones, 37, rejected her advances at the end of a house party, Liverpool Crown Court heard.

She pulled off his left testicle and tried to swallow it, before spitting it out. A friend handed it back to Mr Jones saying: "That's yours."

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

"I am a Patriot"

How I miss those hopeful days in the fall of 2000! I will not apologize for voting for Nader, even now, no matter how many times we have this conversation. And as election 2008 approaches, I am daily reminded of what the man always says about how the system works--that it's a system that promotes the "least bad" candidate rather than the best.

But rather than give you a Nader link, I thought I'd pass along this video of Eddie Vedder playing "I am a Patriot" at a Nader rally. It makes me nostalgic.

And while we're on the subject, let me go ahead and make the ridiculous suggestion that we reform voting in this country. Here's an idea: let's prohibit a company that makes political contributions from recording our votes, and let's reform election rules. Here's how.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

A Great Drummer Dies

Max Roach has died. For those not in the know, here's the wikipedia page for the man, as well as the New York Times' obit.

And a little youtube, while we're at it.

The first is a drum battle with Elvin Jones and Art Blakey.

And here's one of the man with just a snare. If any of this looks easy to you, allow me to disabuse you: it's not.

Like Beavis and Butthead, but better

I post this link somewhat reluctantly since I know how eager my readers are for diversion. But I also know that this movie will make you a smarter, better person.

Here it is. The entirety of Mystery Science Theater 3000 The Movie. And for the uninitiated, here's the background.

Via PoeTV.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Karl thinks you can reach them!

John Stewart and John Oliver talk their way through the disaster of Karl Rove leaving Washington.

Nobody reads old books anymore

For some reason, I didn't get hip to the NYTimes books blog, Paper Cuts, until recently. So you'll pardon me for posting a link with no commentary.

Back in 1943, American soldiers were given copies of a plainspoken book called “Instructions for American Servicemen in Iraq During World War II.” Now the University of Chicago press has released a fascimile edition, and it’s both a beautiful object and a fascinating document, one whose lessons seem more valuable than ever.
I'd really like to see a copy of this, or at least take a look at the illustrations.

Moby Dick

Ultimately, there is nothing like rowing a little boat up to a sixty-ton mammal that swims, stabbing it, and hoping that it dies a relatively well-mannered death.

Nor is there anything like skinning the whale’s penis, “longer than a Kentuckian is tall,” and wearing it as a tunic while you slice up the fat harvested from the rest of its body.

From a New Yorker article on the history of American whaling.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Giuliani and Fascism

As the summer winds down, I am less and less likely to be posting much. But since I am waist-deep in writing an article about authority and the state in Samuel Beckett's Murphy, I thought I'd pass along this article, which comes via BoingBoing, in Rudy Giuliani looks like the clown he is.

Let me quote it:

“Freedom is not a concept in which people can do anything they want, be anything they can be. Freedom is about authority. Freedom is about the willingness of every single human being to cede to lawful authority a great deal of discretion about what you do.”

Oh boy, oh boy.

Friday, August 10, 2007

The Ascendence of "Doping"

I am by no stretch of the imagination of cycling fan. I am not even really a sports fan. But I can be induced to read just about anything on the internet if it means that I can distract my mind for a few minutes away from the academic issues I am ostensibly studying.

So it has been only with minor enthusiasm that I have read coverage of the Tour de France. Truthfully, I don't see what's so special about this sporting event, and I wouldn't take the time to blog about it if I didn't have a linguistic ax to grind.

I'm talking about "doping." What the hell is this word, and why does virtually every article on the Tour use it?

Why when people write about baseball, for example, do they write about "performance-enhancing drugs" and not "doping"? There's no reason for this that I can discern. And it is with this in mind that I'd like to nominate "doping" for the 2007 Word of the Year award.

Every year, the American Dialect Society names a word of the year. Usually it's something topical. Last year, for example, the winner was "to pluto," meaning "to demote or devalue someone or something," since Pluto itself was demoted from a planet to a dwarf planet. (The year before, "truthiness" took home the coveted prize) Often the Word of the Year is a word that has had special prominence in the media. After the 2004 election, the Society considered both "flip-flopper" as a candidate for the award because its sudden and unexpected prominence in the media during the election as well as the infamous phrase "wardrobe malfunction."

And so it is with "doping," a word so stupid, and so ubiquitously used in certain contexts, that its use practically begs us to hope that vocabulary-enhancing drugs will soon be on the market.

It's just silly!

Via Gerry.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Fascists Among Us

I am grateful to Mitch for alerting me to a truly excellent piece in the LA Times entitled "Heroism and the language of fascism." This article has a truly provocative bent to it, no doubt, but the argument--that a culture that heroizes every little servant, especially the servants of the country--toes a dangerous line. Do your self a favor and read it.

Over at the NY Times, the Opinionator* is hosting an excellent discussion of the piece.

It includes such fine lines as these: "I spent my war years in the beer houses and brothels of Germany" and “I hid like a rabbit until they rescued me." Priceless.

*The Opinionator is for NY Times Select members only, which is available for free if you have a .edu email address. Just so you know.

I don't normally care much for 'realism,' but . . .

Artist Ron Mueck, the creator of "The Mask," by the far the creepiest piece at Duke's Nasher Museum, has a new installation at the Museum of Fine Art in Fort Worth, which is equally creepy. And you can see it on Flickr.

Via BoingBoing.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Goddamn, Global Capital is Weird!

Here's a link to a BBC article about a remote Kenya village that is carving officially licensed Simpsons statues out of soapstone.

A group of carvers in western Kenya are looking forward to the first Simpsons movie hitting big screens around the world, even though they are unlikely to see it.

Although most of them in the remote village of Tabaka in Kisii have never watched the animated TV show, Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie have changed their lives and the new film should see demand for their work soar they hope.

Soapstone carving is a traditional craft passed down from generation to generation, and the Abagusii tribe is renowned for their carving prowess.

So when Twentieth Century Fox designated the Tabaka soapstone carvings as official Simpsons merchandise in July 2006, their lives improved overnight.

This reminds me of an old State skit called "Thank you free market," in which former Soviet professions who have been reduced to selling knock-off Western crap on the street proclaim their thanks to the free market. I suspect that this one would go something like this: "I used to be a venerated artisan who created art that was meaningful to my family and my community, but now thanks to the free market I made schlocky cartoon crap. Thank you free market!"

No End in Sight

Let's hope this documentary makes it to North Carolina.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Not a Message Machine

Since Bitter Laughter's candidate spent most of the precious minutes Youtube allotted him in last night's debate fixing his ear piece, I thought I'd pass along a recent Salon article about him, which details his qualifications and, more than anything, his distinctive style of politics, campaigning, and diplomacy.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The 9-11 Generation

After reading the title volume of Pat Barker's Regeneration Trilogy, I've been a little preoccupied with the thinking about the Iraq war, or rather how we tend not to think about the Iraq war.

Barker's novel opens with a "Statement against the continuation of the War"--an actual document penned in 1917 by Siegfied Sassoon, the real-life protagonist of Barker's historical novel. Sassoon's argument against the war was two-fold: (1) that England's aims in WWI had changed over time, rendering the war not one of "defense and liberation," but "a war of aggression and conquest;" and (2) that the war was being supported by a complacent populace that did not share in the agonies of the war and had not "sufficient imagination to realize" such agonies.

It is Sassoon's later point that continues to plague me--namely that war, when practiced by the most powerful, need not affect the populace supporting the bloodshed. Sassoon may have been overstating his point in 1917 (after all, the British were subject to night raids and lost nearly 1 million lives over the course of the war), but his point--that the citizenry had no ability to appreciate the carnage and were thus complacent in supporting the war--still stands. And if anything, his argument has more resonance today in 2007 than it did in 1917.

Glenn Greenwald has this in mind over at Salon.com, where's he's thinking about the identity of the '9-11 Generation.' What is the most fundamental attribute of the '9-11 Generation'? Greenwald nails it:

the unprecedented ease with which one can cheer on endless wars without having to make even the most minimal sacrifices to sustain them.
Greenwald is engaging in this article with the right wing's idea that my generation has met the specter of war with more courage than my parents' since we didn't storm the streets in order to end this thing (shame on us). Greenwald takes this argument to pieces, but his larger point I think still stands: that we are a people (and a generation) so little concerned with the violence practiced in our name, that our detachment from the real state of affairs has become one of our fundamental characteristics. Not only does such "callous complacence" (as Sassoon put it) reflect our failures of empathy (for our own and others) but it is dangerous. Isn't it our inability to feel for others (for the Other) that got us here in the first place? And by "here" I mean embroiled in a series of badly executed, prolonged and unproductive wars in the middle east. Might our inability to register and react to this war ethically be our undoing?

Update: Greenwald has a nice link to a video about this topic, entitled Generation Chickenhawk: the Unauthorized College Republican Convention Tour, which is worth checking out.