31 July 2005

Plame

Via Content Love Knowles, a spook's comments about the outing of Valerie Plame.

the real issues before this Congress and this country today is not partisan politics, not even the loss of secrets. The secrets of Valerie Plame's cover are long gone. What has suffered perhaps irreversible damage is the credibility of our case officers when they try to convince our overseas contact that their safety is of primary importance to us. How are our case officers supposed to build and maintain that confidence when their own government cannot even guarantee the personal protection of the home team? While the loss of secrets in the world of espionage may be damaging, the stealing of the credibility of our CIA officers is unforgivable....

And so we are left with only one fundamental truth, the U.S. government exposed the identity of a covert operative. I am not convinced that the toothpaste can be put back into the tube. Great damage has been done and that damage has been increasing every single day for more than two years.

It is a strange turn when The Nation is quoting spooks about threats to national security.

30 July 2005

Turkish delight

I just had a piece of Turkish delight for the first time. It tastes nothing like I imagined, reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe when I was nine. Ugh.

27 July 2005

Absent

Sorry, gang. Still on the road, with little time to surf and blog. I promise I'm not just suffering from blog depression.

24 July 2005

Hot

Via Collision Detection, I learn that actress Danica McKellar — who played Winnie Cooper on The Wonder Years and has since turned up as speechwriter Will Bailey's sister Elsie Snuffin on The West Wing — is also a mathematician. The real McCoy: she has a proof published in an academic journal.

So the charming thing is that on her website, in addition to a filmography and a few pictures and biographical information and such, she has a little section of math tutoring.

Q:
Hi Danica, I heard a question from Mr. Feenie on a Boy Meets World episode which he claimed to be unanswerable. After hearing that, I decided to figure it out. If it takes Sam 6 minutes to wash a car by himself, and it takes Brian 8 minutes to wash a car by himself, how long will it take them to wash a car together?

Danica Answers:
Hm, unanswerable? That's TV for you. :)

Let's do it: This is a “rates” problem. The key is to think about each of their “car washing rates” and not the “time” it takes them ...
Q:
I think you are great on The West Wing! Here’s my current problem, it’s in advanced finite math (I’m a high school senior): At the height of the Beatles’ popularity, it was estimated that every popular music station played their music 40% of the time. If you tuned through 10 such stations at any given moment, what is the probability that at least one of the stations would be playing a Beatles song? Thanks!

Danica Answers:
A probability question! Okay, let’s call x the probability that “at least one of the 10 stations would be playing a Beatles song at that moment.” That’s what we’re asked to find. Then let’s call y the probability that "none of those 10 stations would be playing a Beatles song at that moment." Notice that x + y = 1 ...

Fun. And sexier than the usual actress' promotional ploy of appearing in lad magazines in lingerie.

21 July 2005

Ti .... ming

On his way to panning Wedding Crashers, Roger Ebert explains the key to the structure of a comedy film.

... her tantrum, incredibly, is in long-shot, so we miss the interaction between Walken and his spoiled brat. The movie shows that the tantrum happens, as if it needs to explain why her daddy invites the boys to his house. It doesn't need to explain anything; it either has to make it funny, or not show it.

Seventeen words. Pretty good.

20 July 2005

John Roberts

A quick sweep from the web about Bush's nominee for Supreme Court Justice.

Law.com:

Roberts, with 20 months on the D.C. Circuit, has few opinions or other writings that have attracted enemies. As a result, some conservatives have made unflattering comparisons between Roberts and Supreme Court Justice David Souter, whose short stint on the 1st Circuit before being appointed in 1990 by President George H.W. Bush failed to reveal Souter's moderate-to-liberal leanings on some issues.

Yet those who know Roberts say he, unlike Souter, is a reliable conservative who can be counted on to undermine if not immediately overturn liberal landmarks like abortion rights and affirmative action. Indicators of his true stripes cited by friends include: clerking for Rehnquist, membership in the Federalist Society, laboring in the Ronald Reagan White House counsel's office and at the Justice Department into the Bush years, working with Kenneth Starr among others, and even his lunchtime conversations at Hogan & Hartson. "He is as conservative as you can get," one friend puts it. In short, Roberts may combine the stealth appeal of Souter with the unwavering ideology of Scalia and Thomas.

Independent Judiciary:
As a Deputy Solicitor General, Mr. Roberts co-wrote a Supreme Court brief in Rust v. Sullivan ... not only argued that the regulations were constitutional, notwithstanding the Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade, but it also made the broader argument that Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided --- an argument unnecessary to defend the regulation.
...
argued that public high schools can include religious ceremonies in their graduation programs
...
After a Supreme Court decision effectively nullified certain sections of the Voting Rights Act, Roberts was involved in the Reagan administration's effort to prevent Congress from overturning the Supreme Court's action.
Washington Post:
Critics have already called attention to his writings on abortion. As deputy solicitor general in the George H.W. Bush administration, Roberts signed a brief on abortion financing that argued in a footnote that Roe v. Wade , which established a constitutional right to abortion, should be overturned because it "finds no support in the text, structure or history of the Constitution."
Digby quoting Jeff Toobin's book about the 2000 presidential election, Too Close to Call:
The president's first two nominations to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia curcuit --- generally regarded as the stepping-stone to the Supreme Court --- went to Miguel Estrada and John G Roberts Jr., who had played important behind-the scenes roles in the Florida litigation.
... and commenting himself:
My initial take on reading around the web on Roberts is that he's a purely political choice --- a Republican die-hard to the bone. This means that even if he isn't seen as "ideological" in theory, he's ideological in practice. They all are.

He's spent his entire adult life in Washington. He's been a judge for only two years. Before that he represented corporations and worked for Republican administrations. That's it. He's not a scholar or a prosecutor or someone who has ever worked in the trenches. He's a creature of the radical right GOP establishment.

Good choice for Bush. He'll take care of his friends. And he knows exactly what he's supposed to deliver.

And for the truly hardcore, Bruce Ackerman's been thinking about the whole nomination process.

16 July 2005

Dictionary

Tom Engelhardt has a good rant about the morality of our fearless leaders.

You sweep opponents up on a battlefield, but you don't want to call them prisoners of war or deal with them by the established rules of warfare. No problem, just grab that dictionary and label them "unlawful combatants," then you can do anything you want. So you get those prisoners into your jail complex (carefully located on an American base in Cuba, which you have redefined as being legally under "Cuban sovereignty," so that no American court can touch them); and then you declare that, not being prisoners of war, they do not fall under the Geneva Conventions, though you will treat them (sort of) as if they did and, whatever happens, you will not actually torture them, though you plan to take those "gloves" off. Then your lawyers and attorneys retire to some White House or Justice Department office and, under the guidance of White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales (now Attorney General), they grab those dictionaries again and redefine torture to be whatever we're not doing to the prisoners.

Just in case I'm not giving you enough of that sort of thing.

Oh, and Tom Toles is thinking similar thoughts.



14 July 2005

Rove Plame Novak Wilson

Why is Karl Rove about to go down in flames? I see that Digby has wrapped up the whole story in a tidy bundle for our convenience, in case you haven't been keeping up.

Bastille Day

It's that time of year again, but what with the news and friends getting enlightened and the sorts of things I've been reading and all, the French Revolution doesn't seem to me like something to celebrate. So a song, instead. Listen to the words.
You say you want a revolution.
Well you know,
We all want to change the world.
You tell me that it's evolution.
Well you know,
We all want to change the world.
But when you talk about destruction
Don't you know you can count me out.
Don't you know it's gonna be ... all right?
all right ... all right

You say you got a real solution.
Well you know,
We'd all love to see the plan.
You ask me for a contribution.
Well you know,
We're all doing what we can.
But when you want money for people with minds that hate,
All I can tell you is, "Brother, you have to wait."
Don't you know it's gonna be ... all right?
all right ... all right

You say you'll change the Constitution.
Well you know,
We all want to change your head.
You tell me it's the institution.
Well you know,
You better free your mind instead.
But if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao
You ain't going to make it with anyone anyhow.
Don't you know know it's gonna be .... all right?
all right ... all right

13 July 2005

Mir!

Warren Ellis points out a site selling Communist propaganda posters. No, I'm not a Communist, but I do dig that propaganda style. Indeed, there's something charming about them becoming objects of online commerce.

12 July 2005

Press briefing

Here in Lefty Blogistan, we often take pleasure in reading Scott McClellan's circumlocutions at White House press briefings as he tries to describe Bush administration policy with a straight face. Care to join the fun? The press corps was feeling particularly lively during yesterday's briefing as they asked about Rove and Plame.

Marketplace of ideas

Billmon puts a well-known metaphor through its paces, and gets a lot of mileage out of it.

The classic Darwinian remedy for this problem is supposed to be the “marketplace of ideas,” in which bad theories and really dumb mistakes (both, in Glassman's case) are weeded out once correct ideas have a chance to prove their superiority. But the marketplace for ideas now suffers from many of the defects that have undermined competitive market theory in general: It assumes all participants have access to the same information at the same time; that risk preferences are symmetrical (that is, fear of loss is as strong as desire for gain) and, most importantly, that no one participant or group of participants has enough market power to permanently restrict competition.

If these conditions ever applied in the marketplace of American ideas, they certaintly don't now.
....
It appears no mistake is too obvious, no theory too hairbrained, no argument too ridiculous to be taken seriously — as long as it is consistent with the consensus "wisdom" of the punditocracy, which is the consensus of the ruling elite. And the failure of such ideas is no longer punished in the marketplace of ideas, which means the market itself has failed.
....

But when markets aren't allowed to clear, imbalances may accumulate until they can't be sustained any longer. Then markets may collapse.

Watching the punditocracy spin its ideological wheels these days, it's hard not to be reminded of the later years of the Soviet Union — a nation dedicated to proposition that the marketplace of ideas should never be allowed to clear. As the system declined into senility it, too, became increasingly detached from reality.

Yet another reason why nervous folks like me smell a hint of totalitarianism in the air.

11 July 2005

On the road again

I'm basically going to spend the next month visiting the conference rooms of America for work. Friends may have a bit of trouble reaching me. Posting may be a bit irregular.

It means "madness," often of a silly kind

This just slays me.
A regular visitor to Jewhoo sent us a publicity release from an organization that specializes in a form of Jewish mysticism (kabbalah) that has gained widespread attention in recent years. Many celebrities are reported to be studying this form of mysticism --- or in the words of some rabbinical critics --- a severely modified form of this mystical tradition. We thought we’d modify this publicity release for a bit of comedic effect. Although we modified it a lot less than you might think. For example, we have not added a name of a single, well-known celebrity. We have changed the word "kabbalah" to "meshugass".
It occurs to me that Rabbi Lamed ben Clifford is a true meshuganist.

(And the title is a gloss on "meshugass." Kabbalah is, of course, madness of a very serious kind.)

10 July 2005

It was Rove

For those of you who have been following the Valerie Plame story, like I have: if you haven't heard it elsewhere, it turns out that the source that leaked her identity to Novak and others was indeed Karl Rove.

If you haven't been following the story, then now's the time to start. Rove has evidently committed a felony. Follow the links.

Nothing to panic about except panic itself

Terrorism works not so much by directly killing people, but by causing the target population to freak out. Mark A. R. Kleiman makes the point quite nicely.
... the tendency of the U.S. media to whip up as much hysteria as possible, and the strong response that tendency finds within the public, does not serve us well, because hysteria magnifies the impact of any terrorist action when our interest is in minimizing that impact. (The greatest triumph of the Iranian hostage-takers in 1979 was ABC's decision to make the embassy takeover a running story under the tagline "America Held Hostage.")

Cold-hearted as it sounds to say it with the rubble still smoking, if the London and Madrid attacks represent terrorists' best shot at Western capitals, it isn't really very impressive. Fewer than fifty dead in London, a year after fewer than two hundred dead in Madrid, is pretty good as mass murder but underwhelming as warfare.

Should we spare no effort to hunt down the killers and those who organized and financed them? Absolutely! But turn ourselves upside down, in a -- probably vain -- attempt to thwart the next attack? I don't think so.

More people will die in drunk-driving accidents in England this week than the bombers killed this morning.

Likewise, we could have a 9/11 every month and lose more Americans to automobile accidents every year. You probably don't know anyone killed on 9/11, but you certainly know at least one person who was killed or severely injured in a car accident. We haven't given up cars; we recognize that accidental deaths are an unhappy fact of life, we work hard to minimize them, and we live our lives. This is what John Kerry was talking about, back in the campaign, when he said that we should reduce terrorism to being a "nuisance."

As I've pointed out before, Americans' freaked-out-ness about terrorism is most often inversely proportional to the directness of their contact with it. New Yorkers, who saw 9/11 with their own eyes, are very matter-of-fact about it, and unimpressed by blather about the War on Terror. Likewise, urban technocrats like me, who are likely to know New Yorkers who had their lives disrupted ... who probably don't know anyone who was killed, but who probably have spoken at least a few times with someone who does ... and who have read big thick books about guys like Sayyid Qutb .... are the Blue Americans who are similarly skeptical of the current administration's constant beating of the terrorism drum. It's rural people who are most removed from New York and DC who are most exercised about terrorism.

Is it because all they know about it is what they see on TV?

09 July 2005

A sacwed contwact

Sure, for a brief and beautiful moment, a gay or lesbian couple could get married by a city official in my town. And in much of the country, you can find a Unitarian Universalist church will be happy to do the marriage ceremony.

But who do you turn to if you want an even more extraordinary marriage? Why, the Church of the SubGenius, of course.

Witnessing Reverend Stang's mass marriages, and the degree of freedom he would give to his flock in their choice of partner (i.e. Your car keys, your dog at home, "Bob" ...), opened my eyes to the philisophical, religious, and cosmological varieties of "lifestyle" that ONLY the Church of the SubGenius, and an enthusiastic Clench, could provide!
Better yet, the types of marriages are color coded for your convenience.
1. A standard marriage between two present, willing live conscious aware people. These are White Marriages.

(From now on, "the betrothed" is taken to mean "one present, willing live conscious aware person". Godot.)

2. A marriage between the betrothed and a non-present, live individual who is not considered "unreachable" for reasons of celebrity and/or status; an absentee marriage. These are Navy Blue Marriages.

3. A marriage between the betrothed and a non-present, live individual who IS considered "unreachable" for reasons of celebrity and/or status; a celebrity-fantasy marriage. This includes famous living animals, like Mike the Dog, becuase the absent nature of the star obviates the usual need for sentient acquiescence. These are Sky Blue Marriages.
...
11. A marriage between the betrothed and an intellectual, social or mental concept, like "injustice" or "the feeling you get when you remember where you left something" or "the price of cheese in Denmark"; a concept that, although possibly concerning things IN the physical universe, is beyond it in mental complexity. In other words, something you can't even BEGIN to try and put on the floor next to you for the ceremony. These are Orange Marriages.

12. A marriage between the betrothed and a generally fictional 'character', whether cinematic, literary, legendary or otherwise (Paul Bunyan, Captain Ahab, etc.): any "person" who, through social consciousness or fable, develops a pseudo-legitimate identity. These are Violet Marriages.
...
15. A marriage in which the betrothed marries him/her/itself. This is a Silver Marriage.

16. A marriage between the betrothed and EVERYTHING. This is a Black Marriage.

Of course, there are even more exotic SubGenius marriages that are "wildly debated."
a. An Indigo Marriage is a marriage between a person and a concept, whereafter the person attempts to assert the legal validity of the marriage onto users, thinkers, or employers of that concept. (I.e. attempting to collect royalties from jazz bands because you've married the "Jazz" concept.)

b. Similarly, a Lavender Marriage is a marriage between a person and a concept "owned" by an individual thinker or philosopher, whereafter the person attempts to gain entrance into the thinker's life as an "in-law". (I.e. marrying "future shock" and trying to move in with Alvin Toffler.)
...
g. A Chartreuse Marriage is a marriage between the betrothed and any present, willing, live, conscious, physical, NON-HOMO SAPIENS entity: this includes alien beings, AI's, and any naturally or artificially introduced sapient animals, places, or things. The debate here is whether any such entities exist, or, more to the point, whether they want to get married.
...
s. A Salmon Marriage is a marriage between the betrothed and an 'imaginary friend' of any type. This is where it is admitted that the "spouse" is a figment, fabrication, extension or construct of the mind or psychic abilities of the first person. This includes computer simulations of people in which the simulation has not passed any approved Turing Tests for true AI certification, and, consequently, is assumed to be "assigned" individual status by the bethrothed, as in the case with an imaginary friend.

t. A Purple Marriage is virtually identical to a Violet Marriage, except that the betrothed is marrying a legendary figure as played by a specific real person! For example, I could choose to marry Supergirl from the comic books (Violet), OR I could choose to marry Supergirl as played by Helen Slater in Supergirl (Purple). Neat, eh?

You know me. I like just about anything with colour coding.

07 July 2005

As bad as you expected

Ebert:
The really good superhero movies, like Superman, Spiderman 2 and Batman Begins, leave Fantastic Four so far behind that the movie should almost be ashamed to show itself in the same theaters.
Sigh.

London

Nous sommes tous britanniques

Dozens are dead in terrorist attacks on London's public transit system.

DeLong comments

We mourn with the citizens of London.

We pledge to help track down and kill the perpetrators, the planners, and their helpers.

We note that it is 46 months after September 11, 2001, and that Osama bin Laden is still alive and at liberty. That somebody can plan September 11, 2001 and remain alive and at liberty provides powerful encouragement to those who think of following in his footsteps -- including those who planned, aided, and carried out today's atrocity in London.

More attention to Osama bin Laden and his ilk, please. And less attention to using Osama bin Laden as a pretext for launching hair-brained neoconservative schemes, please.

Allow me to second that.


Update: Snakey rightly takes me to task.

I don't want the perpetrators killed. I think quite enough people have been killed today.
Just so. I don't want the perpetrators killed, I want them prevented from killing again. If we must kill them to prevent their future crimes, then I am comfortable with that. But I would vastly prefer to have them captured, given a fair trial, and allowed to live on unable to cause more mischief.

Knights vs. zombies

Via Indri of Waterbones, who insists on getting credit for passing on this story, I learn of a brawl between knights and zombies in Montréal.

Some individual proposed a zombie attack on the knights in an online forum.

You know those nerdy Cegep kids who run around on the mountain during Tam Tams fighting with duct tape weapons?

We're trying to recruit an army of slow, dumb annoying zombies to go and attack them, just to see what happens.

Some folks dreaded to interfere with live action role play.
I don't know if I'd mess with larp-ers, they're really intense, someone (zombie) might get hurt. Despite that fact, this might just be the greatest idea in the history of ideas.
Indeed, the whole thing went over very well. There are a lot of pictures, though I notice that the zombies are mostly fond of photographing each other, so there isn't quite as much knight vs. zombie action as you might hope for.

And while the knights were willing to respond to the zombie threat, they did it on their own terms.

The refused to talk to "2005" people.

I had to introduce myself has "Marie-Elaine, the king's daughter"

Don't miss those pictures. There's quite a few of the zombies chowing down at McDonald's, looking oddly at home among the patrons.

06 July 2005

Why not "ambisexual," I wonder?

I'm guessing that more than a few of my readers have at least heard about the recent New York Times article "Straight, Gay or Lying? Bisexuality Revisited."
The psychologists found that men who identified themselves as bisexual were in fact exclusively aroused by either one sex or the other, usually by other men.
The article has inspired both whimsy and ire from folks I know who have met actual bisexuals. Or, you know, are actual bisexuals.
Seated alone in a laboratory room, the men then watched a series of erotic movies, some involving only women, others involving only men.
You gotta wonder what they showed 'em. I'm pretty darn heterosexual. I'm not too proud to say that I haven't spent a little quiet time alone with a picture of Miss November. But your average blue movie's Lesbian Sex Scene is just ... ugh. If you showed me that, and the champagne scene with the two fellas in My Beautiful Laundrette, I'd register as gay as a day in May.

And those bisexual fellas who didn't respond to the girls? Did they think to show them Bound? Gina Gershon and Jennifer Tilly knocking the sheets clean off the matress. That would turn Quentin Crisp on, and he's been dead for over five years.

I dunno, maybe they did that, and there was something screwy about how they "directly measured." I certainly don't want to think about that part of this alleged science.

So who's behind this?

Dr. J. Michael Bailey, a professor of psychology at Northwestern and the new study's senior author.
Whaddaya know, the Southern Poverty Law Center has a page about him. It turns out he's involved in lawsuits for unethical research practices, speaking and publishing about junk science, and ... wait for it ... he belongs an organization that includes these guys:
  • Jean-Phillippe Rushton, a prominent researcher on black genetic inferiority who is president of a pro-eugenics hate group, the Pioneer Fund;
  • Charles Murray, co-author of The Bell Curve, which purported to show black and Latino intellectual inferiority;
  • Kevin MacDonald, a professor at California State University at Long Beach who has written several books about supposed Jewish strategies to subvert "Euro-American" culture; and
  • Gregory Cochrane, a physicist who has suggested the existence of a genetic "gay germ."
What a surprise.

Today's quote

Rudolf Höss was troubled by the actions of a few bad apples.
These so-called ill-treatments and torturing in concentration camps, stories of which were spread everywhere amongst the people, and particularly by detainees who were liberated by the occupying armies, were not, as assumed, inflicted methodically, but by individual leaders, sub-leaders, and men who laid violent hands on them.
Any resemblance to current events is strictly coincidental.


Update: In comments, Indri of Waterbones points out that I should warn readers that the "troubled" link above leads to details about Höss --- which is to say, details about Nazis and the Holocaust --- which is to say, some stuff that folks may find literally nauseating.

05 July 2005

Observation

You know what I really like?

When I get some inscrutable piece of paper from an evil corporation I'm dealing with, and I have to sign it and send it back to them to tell them not to do something obviously bad --- like sell me out to spammers and direct mailers --- and it turns out that the paperwork is folded such that it does not fit in the Envelope Provided.

I love that.

Data for future generations

Via Majikthise, a blog meme that I've let myself get sucked into. Apparently there's a guy who wants to get political and personality assessment data for bloggers. At least bloggers who hear about this meme and take the time to participate.

It turns out that I'm in the same political zone as Ghandi and Nelson Mandela, which is pretty gratifying. And my personality is weird. But I knew that.

See my results ...

=============================================================

Overview: This post is a community experiment with two broad purposes. The first is to create publicly accessible data about bloggers' personalities, which may have sociological value in addition to being just plain fun. The second is to track the propagation of this meme through blogspace. Full details and explanation can be found on the original posting: http://pixnaps.blogspot.com/2005/06/meme-worth-spreading.html.

Instructions (to join in the experiment):

1) Take the IPIP-NEO personality test and the Political Compass quiz, if you have not done so already.

2) Copy to the clipboard that section of this post that is between the double lines, and paste it into your blog editor. (Blogger users may wish to use 'compose' mode to preserve formatting and hyperlinks. Otherwise, be sure to add hyperlinks as necessary.)

3) Replace the answers in the "survey" section below with your own.

4) Add your blog information to the "track list", in the form: "Linked title - URL - optional GUID".

5) Any additional comments should go outside of the double lines, including the (optional) nomination of bloggers you wish to pass this experimental meme on to.

6) Post it to your blog!

Survey:

Age: 35
Gender: Male
Location: San Francisco, CA
Religion: Complicated
Occupation: Consulting interaction designer
Began blogging (dd/mm/yy): 2 January 2004

Political Compass results

Economic Left/Right: -6.50
Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -6.26

IPIP-NEO results

EXTRAVERSION 12

Friendliness 20
Gregariousness 31
Assertiveness 20
Activity Level 18
Excitement-Seeking 0
Cheerfulness 58


AGREEABLENESS 48

Trust 78
Morality 75
Altruism 1
Cooperation 61
Modesty 23
Sympathy 64


CONSCIENTIOUSNESS 41

Self-Efficacy 75
Orderliness 3
Dutifulness 51
Achievement-Striving 43
Self-Discipline 8
Cautiousness 98


NEUROTICISM 27

Anxiety 56
Anger 15
Depression 20
Self-Consciousness 60
Immoderation 21
Vulnerability 32


OPENNESS TO EXPERIENCE 86

Imagination 84
Artistic Interests 63
Emotionality 7
Adventurousness 85
Intellect 91
Liberalism 97

Track List:
1. Philosophy, et cetera - pixnaps.blogspot.com - pixnaps97a2
2. Majikthise - 6ea37d10-e9b9-11d9-8cd6-0800200c9a66
3. Jonathan "Miniver Cheevy" Korman -- http://miniver.blogspot.com/ -- 2668fd50-ed7d-11d9-8cd6-0800200c9a66

=============================================================

Romero

Tim Cavanaugh at Reason magazine says go see Land of the Dead before it shambles away.
After several years of flashy, fast-moving, MTV-ready zombies in variable-film-stock extravaganzas like 28 Days Later and the remade Dawn of the Dead, Romero the classicist knocks all the young punks into a cocked hat. This is a straightforward Howard Hawks movie, with group dynamics, colorful sidekicks and an insider shoutout to Sergeant York, of all things.
And on the way, he links to director George A. Romero's fascinating list of 10 films he would take with him to watch down to Hell.
Repulsion (Polanski)
We're now in what is thought of as my 'zone' --- the horror film. Many wouldn't place Repulsion in this category, but I do. Is Jaws a horror film? Is The Silence of the Lambs? Yes. And they've elevated the genre. But hey, man, we're talkin' Roman here! You want scary. Take it from a scary guy. Go watch Repulsion.
Amen to that. Repulsion is like being strangled with a wadded-up copy of "The Yellow Wallpaper." Only, um, in a good way.

04 July 2005

On the other hand ...

America: Fuck yeah!

Independence Day

Today is Independence Day in the United States.

Independence Day is the High Holy Day of American political identity. If you think about it, the Fourth of July is a strange choice of date. Consider the French equivalent, Bastille Day, which commemorates the storming of the Bastille and thus the event which demonstrated that the French monarchy was over. By similar reasoning, we should be celebrating when Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown on 19 October, the battle of Lexington & Concord on 19 April, or (my favorite as an occasional lefty activist) the Boston Tea Party on 13 December.

But we don't. We celebrate the day that a bunch of guys signed a piece of paper.

I've posted before about how the American veneration of documents in our political culture reflects our Enlightenment conception of the nation as a human creation, composed of ideas, rather than any essential volkish link from country to nation. Nowhere do we see this more strongly than in our choice of the Fourth of July, the day men signed the Declaration of Independence.

It's easy to forget what an achievement the Declaration really is. But 1776 was a world of kings, and finding a way to think and talk about a political order without kings was very, very hard.

A look at Jefferson's intellectual sources shows how just hard the problem was at that time. Here's David Hume trying to find a moral theory for equality in world that only knew the divine right of kings:

Whatever actually happens is comprehended in the general plan or intention of Providence; nor has the greatest and most lawful prince any more reason, upon that account, to plead a peculiar sacredness or inviolable authority, than an inferior magistrate, or even an usurper, or even a robber and a pirate.

Here's John Locke trying to talk about individual human rights.

The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges every one: and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions.

Now here's Jefferson summing it up perfectly in the Declaration.

We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness --- That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient Causes; and accordingly all Experience hath shewn, that Mankind are more disposed to suffer, while Evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the Forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long Train of Abuses and Usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a Design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their Right, it is their Duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future Security.

Those are the principles of liberal democracy, laid out cleanly in two hundred and three words.

I'd like to say that you couldn't improve it by changing a single one of those words. It's very, very close. But those two uses of the word "Men" really stick out. I'm prepared to forgive Jefferson that one. He was a man of his time. He knew that the principles he describes meant that America was engaged in a terrible evil in the form of slavery. (Check out his rough draft of the Declaration: it's right there.) And so also, deep in the Declaration is the principle that all people are equal, and I suspect that Jefferson knew it without knowing it, but didn't know how to fit it into the language. Maybe not, but I prefer to believe in the Declaration as it should have read.

I gave you the best part, but hey, you really ought to take a few minutes in honor of the day and read the whole thing --- it's really good stuff.


Bonus posts:

Hollywood movie stars and me ranting about liberal patriotism!

Brad DeLong and Don Herzog on Jefferson, rights, and Nature's God!

03 July 2005

St. Diana

Hip Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong thinks Wonder Woman is cool.

If the goal of organized religion is to call people to the fullness of their humanity, as I believe it is, then perhaps church leaders ought to look at those they hold up as role models. Both Wonder Woman and the Virgin Mary are mythological figures. The church does not like to admit that, but it is true. Neither woman, as we have come to know them, ever lived in history. Only one of them pretends to be historical, the other freely admits she is not.

But Wonder Woman has done more to break the culturally imposed boundaries on women than the Virgin Mary ever did. Wonder Woman has shaped, freed, and transformed more women’s limits than the Virgin Mary has done in 2000 years. If it were possible to do so, I would nominate her for sainthood.

Who am I to argue?

02 July 2005

Supplies

Via Indri at Waterbones, I learn that that the folks from McSweeney's, who maintain the San Francisco Pirate Store now also run the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co.

I'm quite fond of the pirate store, and have a lovely set of striped pirate stockings from there which I wear on brigandly occasions.

BSSCo has been photographed inside and out for your viewing pleasure.

01 July 2005

Romantic comedy

Via Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon, I learn that Carina Chocano at the LA Times has done some investigative reporting on why romantic comedies suck so much these days, and came up with How to cook up a 'perfect' heroine.
After watching Monster-in-Law, I canvassed a few writers --- who won't be named, so that they may continue to write and happily incorporate notes --- to share directives they'd received while creating their romantic heroines. There is no such thing, it appears, as a romantic comedy heroine who couldn't benefit from being just a little more "likable" than she already is (Rule No. 1). "Likable" of course, can mean many things in the real world; but for a studio it tends to mean that she does some kind of work involving animals or the elderly. Perhaps she's a veterinarian, or a zookeeper. If she works in business, she has a boss who doesn't appreciate her, or steals her ideas. Whatever it is, she has it tough. Sometimes she's a single mother, "trying to hold it all together in this tough, dog-eat-dog world," one writer offers. "Also, likable often means clumsy," she adds. "She falls down a lot, but in an adorable fashion. Likable also means pretty. As we all know, the fat are unlikable."
Stupidity, once again, manifests as sexism.

I'll be home, watching The Philadelphia Story for the billionth time.