30 September 2006

Popkultur commodification

MIT's Convergence Culture gang pays a visit to ComiCon and learns a lesson about the economic consequences of fan love.
he had been hesitant to invest in the development of Firefly-affiliated merchandise, until he saw that fans were willing to pay—and pay well—for anything connected to the show
....
a small, engaged audience can be far more lucrative, especially to niche marketers, than a massive casual audience. After all, as he pointed out to me, there's no market for CSI: Miami trading cards, even if it is the number one show in the world
Fourteen episodes, cancelled four years ago, and Firefly still sells cards.

Reminds me of a story I read about how Lucas had sold the merchandising rights for Episode I-III of Star Wars for a billion dollars. For that kind of money, he could have made the movies and shown them for free as a promotional cost. Think about that.

Apologetics

For those of you who say, “omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent—choose two,” I say that I have a few hundred proofs of God's existence handy.

A few samples:

Argument from Lots of Books
  1. The Bible has lots of books written by lots of authors over a long period of time.
  2. Through centuries of vigorous apologetics we've been able to forge a more or less coherent plot for the whole Bible.
  3. It is beyond human ability for so many authors over so long a time to write so many books from which we could hammer such a plot.
  4. Therefore, God exists.
Argument from Troy
  1. There is little archeological evidence for the events in Exodus.
  2. But look at Troy! It is discovered when people thought the Iliad was only a story! So who knows if there would be a time evidence for Exodus was discovered?
  3. Therefore the Exodus actually happened.
  4. Therefore, God exists.
Pascal's Argument, aka Pascal's Wager
  1. If God exists, it would be really cool. (And I would win big-time.)
  2. If God didn't exist, it would really suck. (But I wouldn't lose much.)
  3. Therefore, God exists. (Or, at least I should believe in God because it's the best bet.)
My Thelemite readers may particularly enjoy proofs 241 and 242.

And mind you, most of these are arguments for a well-known flavour of Big Daddy God. Apply to Ha'shem, Ram, Ptah, Ahura Mazda, Thor, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster at your own risk.

29 September 2006

Infinite mouse

Cory Doctrow asks a question.

Almost all the movies made when the first Mickey cartoon was made are rotting and running to slime. No one can bring them back to life because they can't even figure out who they belong to, 78 years after the fact. Why should all of those movies vanish so that you, Disney, can go on making money off of less than one percent of the creative works from the 1920s?
Lawrence Lessig explains further.

27 September 2006

On the road

After all that about this blog showing up irregularly on LJ, I should also say that I am likely going on haitus for about a week, since I'm going to be travelling such that I probably won't have good 'net access.

Feed

There's something screwy with Blogger Beta's feed behaviour, such that I see that the LiveJournal syndicated version of my blog has apparently been, uh, constipated. It's not been working the last several days, but just now has shown a flood of posts from the last several days.

Sorry about that, O LiveJournal readers. Though one of 'em reports that I needn't apologize, so relieved she is that I'm broadcasting on that channel again—she even recommends to her LJ Friends that they Friend my syndicated feed. Speaking for myself, I figure that this recent wacky behavior doesn't exactly constitute encouragement to read me via feed. This is twice that I've flooded those readers' Friends pages.

But if you're a LiveJournalist who didn't know about my syndicated version and is brave enough to want my blog on your Friends page, this link should set you up. You'll get the same bloggy goodness every day, though the formatting is sometimes a touch less elegant. (I do, however, insert LJ cuts in my occasional very long posts, if that's a consideration.) FWIW, I don't get automatically notified when someone comments on the LJ posts, the way I do on the original Blog*Spot version of the blog. I try to check the comments on the LJ version regularly, but I probably miss some, so if you have a comment that you really want me to see, put it on Blog*Spot.

If you've never heard of LiveJournal and don't understand anything I'm talking about ... never mind.

Who's winning

Security guru Bruce Scheiner tells us what the terrorists want.
I'd like everyone to take a deep breath and listen for a minute.

The point of terrorism is to cause terror, sometimes to further a political goal and sometimes out of sheer hatred. The people terrorists kill are not the targets; they are collateral damage. And blowing up planes, trains, markets or buses is not the goal; those are just tactics. The real targets of terrorism are the rest of us: the billions of us who are not killed but are terrorized because of the killing. The real point of terrorism is not the act itself, but our reaction to the act.

And we're doing exactly what the terrorists want.

He is exactly correct, and you really, really ought to click through and read the whole thing.

26 September 2006

Cathartic media

Everything you know is wrong.

Youth violence is decreasing, and this coincides neatly with the increasing prevalance of violent video games. Take that, Jack Thompson!

Rates of of rape are decreasing, and this coincides with the increasing availability of pornography. Take that, Catherine MacKinnon!

Or, more likely, trying to figure these things out using statistics is just very, very difficult.

Today's quote

  • Remember, a tiger is not a toy.
  • Don't try to impress people by brandishing your tiger.
  • Don't ever point your tiger at anything you are not prepared to have eaten.
  • Always keep you tiger cleaned, and in proper working condition.
  • Don't use more tiger than you can handle.
  • Keep your tiger away from children until they are mature enough to use it wisely.
From comments on a post by Majikthise, who informs us of a funny yet subtly important civil liberties question, as DeLong observes.

25 September 2006

Perpetual motion machine

Katherine at Obsidian Wings tells us some backstory about Maher Arar, the Canadian citizen who was picked up by US airport security at JFK International Airport and sent to Syria for interrogation in a process called “extraordinary rendition,” which some readers may remember me mentioning earlier.
Syrian intelligence forces beat Maher Arar into falsely confessing that he had received terrorist training in Afghanistan. It's actually worse than that. Arar wasn't just tortured into a false confession in a Syrian prison. He also seems to have been sent to be tortured in Palestine Branch partly because of false confessions that two other Canadian citizens made under torture in the same prison.

Their names are Ahmad Abou El-Maati and Abdullah Almalki.
...
El-Maati's first interrogation:

During his first interrogation session, when the Syrian intelligence officers found El-Maati's initial answers to their questions unsatisfactory, they threatened to imprison and rape his wife. El-Maati said he had told the truth and that he ‘could not invent a story.’ But, according to El-Maati,
[T]hey told him yes, he could invent a story.

They told him to strip naked except for his shorts and made him lie down, and hancuffed his hands behind his back to his legs. He was still blindfoled. They poured ice water all over him and brought in thick electrical cables and started beating him with them on his feet, legs, knees and back. They would occasionally stop and take him back to his cell. This continued for two days.

Ahmad broke down and agreed to say what they wanted him to say.

Emphasis mine.

Mind you, this isn't what the President means when he talks about the importance of permitting the US to use “tough interrogation methods.” This was the bad Syrians, not the good and virtuous US. All the US did was send Arar to Syria to be interrogated, because the US had evidence that suggested that he was a al-Qaeda terrorist. Okay, it turns out that this evidence was incorrect, in part because some of it was beaten out of people. But that was done by the Syrians, not the US, so you see that this is all the Syrians' responsibility, not ours. I am sure that this process will eventually lead to the torture of people who really are terrorists, and the US will take responsibility for doing that torture.

I mean interrogation. Did I say “torture?” Sorry. Interrogation. Tough but legal interrogation.

Obsidian Wings has a lot more on the Maher Arar story.

24 September 2006

Space marines

Codic at Everything2 has a request.
I'm not saying that movies falling into the idea of “everyone dies but Sean Connery, Sigourney Weaver, and Arnold Schwarzenegger,” is incredibly terrible. But cliché is a horrible thing, especially when you start fucking up the overly macho guy movies I need so desperately in my horribly drab life. Please, I have so little. So very little. Rekindle my hope in military training effectiveness. Show me that orders can be followed with cohesion, precision, and guile on that big movie screen. Give me beautiful wide angle panning shots of snipers effectively covering the field of fire on his forward scout teams. Give me a zoom in on the team leader's face correctly ascertaining the fire lines of potential hidden artillery bunkers. Show me coolness under pressure. I want to see flanks covered, effective room clearing, and proper use of a goddamn pulse rifle within close proximity of enemy targets. I want to see hostages rescued, aliens gutted, and beers being toasted ...
Codic goes on to instruct us on “how to properly assemble a combat insertion team.“
  1. Choose an effective team leader.
  2. Shoot the new guy in the foot before you teleport, dock, or otherwise leave the transport vessel.
  3. Have someone Cisco certified or Wedge on your team.
  4. Group hug and calm down the paranoid guy on your team before anything horrible happens.
  5. Give the medic, scientist, or any otherwise non-military squad member a gun. And make sure it's a serious-ass gun with lots of buttons and blinking things on it, too.
Codic elaborates on each of these at length, explaining why, f'rinstance, an effective team leader in a space alien attack is almost certainly going to have to be female. Having seen a lot of space alien attack movies, I have to agree that this is good advice.

23 September 2006

Passion

Previously I showed you a little mashup of Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ which was primarily a witty little meditation on the formalism of movie trailers—though it did offer one very sharp comment on the film as a final punchline.

Filmmaker Brian Flemming has done something superficially similar, taking a scene from the film and changing the soundtrack. Unlike the previous example's dig at Mel, this one is really directed at the sentiments that Passion presumes of its audience. Though it works through a simple, cunning formal trick, Fleming's clip is no mere formal exercise—it is a work of satire through and through, brilliant and vicious.

I should warn you that both clips are painfully violent, especially the latter one.

Eye chart

Thelemic eye chart

Available for sale on Cafepress in poster and t-shirt form. Add, subtract, multiply, and be confused!

If you don't understand the joke ... never mind. It's a very inside joke.

22 September 2006

Generational politics

In the early ’90s, Generation Xers like me started to develop some generational consciousness. There was something weird going on in the gap between Xers and our elders that was tricky to put your finger on ... at least until you figured out something that is obvious once you think about it, that the Xers’ gap experience is just plain different from the Baby Boomers’ experience. Once you step away from the previous example, things become a lot clearer.

It was at that time that I found out about Niel Howe and William Strauss, a pair of historians who have a theory about generational cycles in American history and culture. They say that American culture moves in a four-generation cycle, with recurring generational archetypes: Prophets, Nomads, Heroes, and Artists. Boomers are Prophets, while Xers are Nomads, like the Lost Generation that come of age in the 1920s. Folks born since around Reagan's inauguration they call “Millenials,” and Howe and Strauss classify them as Heroes, like the generation that came of age in the Great Depression and WWII.

Their theory is that this generational cycle corresponds to a historical cycle, moving through what they call “turnings:” a High, an Awakening, an Unravelling, and a Crisis. In their book The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy, they said that past Crises included the American Revolution, the Civil War, and the Great Depression / WWII. If you do the math that means that we're just about due for another Crisis. The book was published six years ago and the subtitle turns out to be disconcertingly apt.

So I want to talk about our Crisis, and how it connects to the generations ...

I thought of them when I read yet another great post from Digby, this time about the disconcerting implications of recent Boomer veneration of the “Greatest Generation” who came of age during the last Crisis and fought World War Two. It's worth reading Digby's whole post, but I'll quote just a bit to make my point about the generational dynamics here.

I don't think younger people can understand the depth of the generation gap between the baby boomers and their parents, the Greatest Generation. It was a chasm and it turned families inside out for many years. But by the 90's our parents were starting to get very old and for many of us, the fetishizing of the Greatest Generation was a form of generational rapprochement.

For conservative baby boomers, however, it had much more resonance. Vietnam was their war, of course, the most lethal, meaningful hot war of the Cold War, but they had largely avoided it like most of their age group, even as they extolled the warrior virtues and supported the policy. (This led to cognitive dissonance that never left them.) They also sat out or opposed the successful, defining social movements of their generation --- civil rights and women's rights --- and were looking back at a life made up of nothing more than petty culture war resentment. By the time they came into power even the Cold War was over --- resolved by the last presidents of the Greatest Generation. It looked as if the conservative baby boomers were going to be left without any meaningful legacy at all. You could feel their emptiness.

Digby argues that the architects of the Bush administration stood ready to turn that void into the hunger for endless war which I've commented on before.
... if you follow the talk of a grand Clash of Civilizations with “Islamofasists” since 9/11 ... you see that there is an unwholesome satisfaction at the prospect
....
I see some transparent hungers at work.
....
I also suspect that there's a kind of generational hunger at work here, too .... [I reference Strauss and Howe's prediction of a Crisis] .... The wheel has turned, and it's that time again. I've felt the call myself, a hunger for national purpose. But the kind of national purpose that speaks to me is very different than what these hawks dream of—their dream is of endless, bloody war.
Digby's piece is largely a reaction to an excellent article by Christopher Hayes from In These Times about how Greatest Generation nostalgia in the ’90s helped to set us up for this attitude.
The WWII that emerges from accounts of the late ’90s is one scrubbed clean of its moral complexity. There is no mention of American big business financing the build-up of the Nazi war machine, no America First campaign determined not to shed American blood for European Jews, no firebombing of civilians in Dresden. The war was difficult, yes, and bloody, but pure and just: a battle, not to put too fine a point on it, between good and evil.

In the hands of the men who would come to dominate American military policy in the Bush administration, this Manichean framework was a useful template to apply indiscriminately to any and all of the military confrontations they had long sought. To the neocons and some breakaway lefties, al-Qaeda members are “Islamofascists,” 21st century heirs to the murderous ideologies of Nazism, fascism and totalitarianism. It is always Munich 1938, every dictator is a “tyrant,” and anyone opposed to a state of perpetual war is guilty of “appeasement.”

In short, in the ’90s many Boomers were psyching themselves up for this bloodthirsty decade, and we didn't know.

I remember that when I first read Howe and Strauss, I had a hard time accepting their prediction that the Prophet Boomers—who of course produced the hippies—would mature into a generation that would send Hero Millenials off to war, just like the Hero Greatest generation before them. I don't have a hard time with that one at all, any more.

Shortly after 9/11, I was near Ground Zero in Manhattan with a friend who had also read Howe and Strauss. We saw a couple of New York's Finest interacting with a gaggle of kids and teenagers there. It was close enough to 9/11 that the kids' natural immunity to the solemnity of any occasion did not protect them from the aura of Ground Zero. The cops still wore the haloes they all had in the wake of their valor on 9/11. Kids, heroes, and a smoking hole in the ground: there was something spooky happening. The kids were very deferential to the cops. There was hope in the eyes of the cops. And there was hope in the eyes of the kids, too, but a different kind. I couldn't quite name what was happening, but my friend did.

“Look at that,” she said. “We're ready to send them off to war. And they're ready to go. It'll be easy.

21 September 2006

Aliens, demons, fairies, angels, and the brain

LiveScience offers us an article with the irresistable title Creepy Experiment Exposes Paranoia and Sense of Alien Control.
The young woman went to doctors to have them probe her brain, to root out where her seizures came from. But unexpectedly, their investigations and the procedure they performed led her to experience the creepy illusion of a person standing behind her, where nobody was actually present.

The patient described the illusory person as young and of indeterminate sex, a “shadow” who did not speak or move. “He is behind me, almost at my body, but I do not feel it,” she reported.

When the patient sat and embraced her knees with her arms, she noted the “man” was now also sitting and clasping her in his arms, which she described as unpleasant. When asked to read a card in her right hand, she noted the shadow tried to interfere, saying, “wants to take the card” and “he doesn't want me to read.”
...
The researchers found stimulating a region known as the left temporoparietal junction caused the woman to feel the presence of a shadowy person.

The temporoparietal junction is involved in distinguishing self from other and integrating body-related sensory information. Since the shadowy person closely mimicked the woman, the researchers propose she was experiencing an illusion based on her own body. This effect is a symptom of schizophrenia, and the scientists noted hyperactivity in the temporoparietal cortex of schizophrenics could lead to include the sensation that one's actions are being performed by someone else.

Fascinating stuff.

But, I gotta say, “the young woman went to doctors to have them probe her brain” and then she had some paranoid hallucinations. There's a part of me that says that it ain't exactly a surprise, y'know?

20 September 2006

Torture

Eugene Robinson writes at the Washington Post.
I wish I could turn to cheerier matters, but I just can't get past this torture issue—the fact that George W. Bush, the president of the United States of America, persists in demanding that Congress give him the right to torture anyone he considers a “high-value” terrorist suspect. The president of the United States. Interrogation by torture. This just can't be happening.
Found via Jim Henley of Unqualified Offerings, who describes the story thus.
the President put torture back in the news, campaigning for a bill to make torture okay so long as the President meets the strict requirement of deciding to torture someone
Impeach George W. Bush. Impeach him now.

Consent

One thing that a worldly person learns living here in this den of iniquity we call San Francisco is that folks who enjoy the giving and receiving of recreational spankings and so forth are very sophisticated about the concept of consent. Unlike many folks who seem to not get the concept of consent at all.

So I was charmed by this observation in an anecdote from a professional dominatrix.

By asking me a question, you consent to having your question answered, even if that answer makes you uncomfortable.
Ah. Good observation.

19 September 2006

Carbon

Al Gore is gutsier than I realized. Dig this from a recent speech.
For the last fourteen years, I have advocated the elimination of all payroll taxes—including those for social security and unemployment compensation—and the replacement of that revenue in the form of pollution taxes—principally on CO2. The overall level of taxation would remain exactly the same. It would be, in other words, a revenue neutral tax swap. But, instead of discouraging businesses from hiring more employees, it would discourage business from producing more pollution.
In comments at Ezra Klien's blog, Nicholas Beaudrot takes out a pencil and works out the figures.
Do the math!

The US produced roughly 6 million metric tons of CO2 last year. Social Insurance taxes brought in $733 Billion in revenue Table F-3. A gallon of gas produces 20 pounds of CO2.

The math says ... $.06 per pound of CO2, or $1.20 per gallon of gas. pre-2004, gas was about $4.50/gal US in Europe, and below $2.00/gal in most of the States. This means we could enact a CO2 tax and still pay less than Europeans pay for gas (which is around $6.50 today).

What's more, the payroll tax is almost entirely born by the worker. Someone who makes $40,000/year and drives 18,000 miles in a 20 mpg car (or cars) would still come out way ahead.

Avast!

Don't ye be fergettin', mateys, that today be International Talk Like a Pirate Day.

Arrr!

Bonus! Via Makeda55, an excellent pirate language learning resource.

Is it fascism yet?

Digby gives good rant, starting from a quote from conservative pundit Fred Barnes.
“It's really important at this stage ... to be thinking about how to institutionalize courses of action that will enable future presidents to gain the information necessary to prevent attack,” [Bush] said. This, presumably, would include the use of secret prisons, tough but legal interrogation techniques, a ban on lawsuits against interrogators, electronic eavesdropping, and monitoring of bank transfers, among other measures.
....
I assume he's accurately reporting what the president said. And he's reporting that Bush's plan to combat terrorism is to institutionalize torture, warrentless spying on his own citizens, indefinite detention, secret prisons, warrantless monitoring of bank transfers and legal immunity for those who carry out those tasks.
There is, of course, more, if you care to follow through the link.

18 September 2006

Geeks saving the universe

Lance Mannion has a commentary on Stars Trek, Wars, and -gate so good that he makes me want to watch Stargate SG-1, which I would have thought impossible.
the other thing I like about SG-1 is that it was made by adults who aren't just remembering what it was like to be 8 years old and love Star Trek. It's made by adults who are remembering also what it was like to be 12 and to start seeing plot holes and logic failures in what used to be your favorite sci-fi movies and TV shows.
Mannion's commentary meanders, so he manages to tie together some observations about geeky TV characters, George Lucas' egomania, and Cagney and Lacey such that it all makes sense.

Really. Cagney and Lacey. It's one of the best parts, actually.

Venn

Indexed offers us art using a very simple formalism in a very simple medium.

15 September 2006

Mirrorshades

If the word “cyberspace” has any metaphorical resonance for you, you probably want to see a little something that Warren Ellis reports from Second Life.

Gumbo

Luxcannon offers wise words about gumbo.
The magic in the cauldron starts happening when the third and fourth order chemical compounds get to mixing. Each meat is cooked or prepared separately, and then combined into the big pot when it's the appropriate time. You have to suss that out based on what you want matching up with what. The big engineering trick is to cook something so long but not have it all end up tasting like undifferentiated stuff. That would be the antithesis of gumbo-- a freeze-dried powder that was stirred into a softened brick of noodles .... There is an emulsifying that occurs. Yes, my motherfucking gumbo motherfucking stratifies.
Sounds tasty.

14 September 2006

Say hello to the new boss

Via DeLong, I see that Associated Press reports that the government of Iraq which we are fighting to defend is maintaining the Abu Ghraib tradition.
The notorious Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad is at the centre of fresh abuse allegations just a week after it was handed over to Iraqi authorities, with claims that inmates are being tortured by their new captors.
...
An independent witness who went into Abu Ghraib this week told The Sunday Telegraph that screams were coming from the cell blocks housing the terrorist suspects. Prisoners released from the jail this week spoke of routine torture of terrorism suspects and on Wednesday, 27 prisoners were hanged in the first mass execution since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime.
I am sure that the President is right that if we have the resolve to keep American troops in Iraq through the end of his term, the insurgency against the Iraqi government will be defeated, because the Iraqi people yearn for the freedom and democracy that the new government of Iraq is offering.

13 September 2006

23

Via Quibitum, I learn that 2003 UB313, the largest known dwarf planet, previously nicknamed Xena, has been named Eris. I had been pulling for “Proserpina,” which really should have been the name of Pluto's moon Charon, but this is even better.
Eris' discoverer, Michael Brown of the California Institute of Technology, said the name was an obvious choice, calling it “too perfect to resist.”
Hail Eris!

Iraq again

I've been laying off the Iraq blogging for a while, but I have to pass this on.

In The American Prospect, Sam Rosenfeld and Matthew Yglasias make a clear case that to focus too much on the incompetant handling of the occupation of Iraq is corrosive to our thinking about whether the invasion was a good idea or not in the first place ... and by extension confuses us about what our foreign policy principles should be.

The incompetence critique is, in short, a dodge—a way for liberal hawks to acknowledge the obviously grim reality of the war without rethinking any of the premises that led them to support it in the first place. In part, the dodge helps protect its exponents from personal embarrassment. But it also serves a more important, and dangerous, function: Liberal hawks see themselves as defenders of the legitimacy of humanitarian intervention—such as the Clinton-era military campaigns in Haiti and the Balkans—and as advocates for the role of idealism and values in foreign policy. The dodgers believe that to reject the idea of the Iraq War is, necessarily, to embrace either isolationism or, even worse in their worldview, realism—the notion, introduced to America by Hans Morgenthau and epitomized (not for the better) by the statecraft of Henry Kissinger, that U.S. foreign policy should concern itself exclusively with the national interest and exclude consideration of human rights and liberal values. Liberal hawk John Lloyd of the Financial Times has gone so far as to equate attacks on his support for the war with doing damage to “the idea, and ideal, of freedom itself.”

It sounds alluring. But it’s backward: An honest reckoning with this war’s failure does not threaten the future of liberal interventionism. Instead, it is liberal interventionism’s only hope. By erecting a false dichotomy between support for the current bad war and a Kissingerian amoralism, the dodgers run the risk of merely driving ever-larger numbers of liberals into the realist camp. Left-of-center opinion neither will nor should follow a group of people who continue to insist that the march to Baghdad was, in principle, the height of moral policy thinking.

If you dig these kinds of questions, it's worth going to read the whole thing.

Cost / benefit analysis

Mark Kleiman identifies eight operational principles for reducing crime and incarceration, and #2 is my favourite.
Remember that arrests, convictions, and years in prison are costs, not benefits.
Ah.

Duh.

12 September 2006

Not really

This is a test. This is only a test.

Really, the test is whether you laugh.

Heroes

Lance Mannion's son has just noticed something important about Robin Hood—and all heroes.
He asked me to tell it.

Here's more or less what I said.

Yes, the heroes die, but there is always someone left to tell the story. Athos and Porthos and D'Artagnan die. But Aramis lives on past the end of the book. And Bedevere is there watching when the three queens take Arthur away to Avalon. And Little John comes to find Robin and is there for the most important part.

It seems Mr Mannion is raising his son right.

And if you don't know the story of Robin's Last Arrow, than for God's sake click through; you need it.

11 September 2006

Mea culpa

Via Wolcott, I see that Simon Jenkins of the UK Guardian chides me for dredging up 9/11 memories.
Terrorism is 10% bang and 90% an echo effect composed of media hysteria, political overkill and kneejerk executive action, usually retribution against some wider group treated as collectively responsible. This response has become 24-hour, seven-day-a-week amplification by the new politico-media complex, especially shrill where the dead are white people. It is this that puts global terror into the bang. While we take ever more extravagant steps to ward off the bangs, we do the opposite with the terrorist aftershock. We turn up its volume. We seem to wallow in fear.

Were I to take my life in my hands this weekend and visit Osama bin Laden's hideout in Wherever-istan, the interview would go something like this. I would ask how things have been for him since 9/11. His reply would be that he had worried at first that America would capitalise on the global revulsion, even among Muslims, and isolate him as a lone fanatic. He was already an "unwelcome guest" among the Afghans, and the Tajiks were out to kill him for the murder of their beloved leader, Ahmed Shah Massoud (which they may yet do). A little western cunning and he would have been in big trouble.

In the event Bin Laden need not have worried. He would agree, as did the CIA's al-Qaida analyst in Peter Taylor's recent documentary, that the Americans have done his job for him. They panicked.

Jenkins is, of course, exactly correct. But given that mythologizing of 9/11 is now, unhappily, inevitable here in the US, I felt it best to try to bring back some memory of how it really felt at the time.

9-11

In honour of the fifth anniversary of 9/11, I'd like to take a peculiar tack. I'd like to bring how that time felt back to mind, through the words of comedians returning to work the following week.

Seriously. This stuff really brought it back for me.

You may recall that the first issue of The Onion after 9/11 proved that it really is America's Finest News Source. When people say that there are some subjects that are just not appropriate for humour, period, I think of those Onion stories, especially God Angrily Clarifies “Don't Kill” Rule. The Onion managed, miraculously, to keep its voice while saying exactly what needed to be said.

Thanks to the magic of YouTube, I also have video for you. Check out David Letterman's first show after 9/11. First he speaks, obviously extemporaneously. Then he talks with Dan Rather. I'm not among the ranks of Rather's fans, but seeing him cheerleading for the Bush administration in that video is instructive when one reflects on how the right would soon portray him as the personification of “liberal media bias.”

I also have Jon Stewart's first show after 9/11. Watch the whole thing; you must see the bit at the end where he talks about the view from his window.

Two other non-comedic thoughts for today: Nous Sommes Tous Américains, and Phil Agre's Imagining the Next War, written just four days after 9/11, which I have blogged repeatedly because, well, it deserves it.

Updates: One more video memory from Digby, plus Keith Olbermann.

10 September 2006

Fountain

Via MKB's linklblog, a surprisingly interesting feature about ten extraordinary urinals.

R. Mutt's masterpiece doesn't make the cut.

09 September 2006

Ratings

Christa Faust offers a word about the forthcoming documentary about the MPAA, This Film Is Not Yet Rated.
It’s a great idea and the animated trailer explaining the current ratings system is fucking brilliant. It makes me want to fucking swear. A fucking lot. I also signed the fucking petition urging the fucking MPAA to rethink their fucking ratings system. I urge all of you fuckers out there who give a fuck about creative fucking expression to do the fucking same.
Fuck yeah. I couldn't have said it better myself.

Cinema

Jean-Luc Godard famously said, “all you need for a movie are a girl and a gun.”

I am reminded that you can make the same kind of movie, substituing a car for the gun.

07 September 2006

Apophis

I've mentioned this before:
A mountain of rock and iron is hurtling towards us from space. Apophis—a 300-meter diameter asteroid—is still millions of kilometers distant. But in 2029, it will make a spectacularly close passage by our planet. When it does, its orbit around the Sun will be affected.

A shift of just a few hundred kilometers, and Apophis could return in 2036 to slam into Earth, creating widespread devastation.

Will Apophis pass through the “keyhole,” the small area on its 2029 path that would cause it to hit Earth on its next orbit in 2036? We have to find out, because if an impact is likely to occur, we're going to need all the time possible to plan and implement space missions to deflect it away from Earth.

That vivid description is from the Planetary Society. Via Chairman Bruce, I learn that they have a plan.
The Planetary Society, not content to wait for governments to come to the rescue, has come up with a plan to help advance our efforts to prepare for the inevitable—whether it happens with Apophis in a few years, or another object a few decades from now.

With our members' support, The Planetary Society will challenge the most innovative and brilliant minds on the planet today to design a space mission to visit Apophis and “tag” it for tracking.
...
We're going to back this contest with a $50,000 cash reward, along with the alluring possibility that NASA or another space agency will actually transform the design into a real mission.

They're raising money to fund this project. Bruce Willis? Michael Bay? Ben Affleck? I'm looking at you.

Liberal media

In honour of the 5th anniversary of 9/11, ABC will be showing a new docudrama, The Path to 9/11. It's apparently a work of Republican propaganda which says, of course, that it's all Bill Clinton's fault. (Think Progress quotes counterterrorism czar to Clinton and both Bush administrations on why this is bull.)

Rep. Louise M. Slaughter (D-NY) has a detailed page of criticism and concerns up on HouseDemocrats.gov, saying, “ABC has a responsibility to make clear that this film is not a documentary, and does not represent an official account of the facts surrounding the September 11th attacks.”

Digby is also on the case. The marketing saying that the docudrama is based on the Congressional 9/11 Commission Report is a big fat lie—in fact it was based largely on a book by a Bush administration PR flack for the FBI with extremely dubious antiterrorist credentials, and written and directed by propagandists for the right as part of what looks like a larger effort by Disney/ABC to win back the approval of the religious right. They've shown the movie in advance to right wing bloggers but not to lefty bloggers, which makes ya wonder.

Think Progress also has more resources, including a tool for protesting to ABC.

05 September 2006

04 September 2006

Pinned

Runlulurun explains Greek dating rituals—as in American college fraternities and sororities, not as in the land of Plato and dolmas.
There were three or four levels of commitment that were recognized by this ritual. The first equated to going steady with a guy in a fraternity. If you were “lavaliered” that meant that the guy had given you a charm of his fraternity letters to wear. Basically it was like wearing a guy's class ring in high school.

The next level was that you were pinned ... this was a more significant step. In this instance, the guy would give his girlfriend his fraternity pin to wear along with her own sorority pin.

Sometimes people would announce if they got promised to a guy, which was usually represented with a teeny tiny diamond ring. (Sometimes this step was skipped)

And the motherload, the Holy Grail for most of sorority girls in college everywhere (at least in the 80's): the engagement.

There's also singing, candles, and sisterhood.

I'm a feminist freak citizen who went to the University of California at Santa Cruz as the '80s rolled over into the '90s. UCSC had more students who joined SAGE—Students Against Greek Establishment—than we had in our handful of off-campus fraternities and sororities. Perhaps, with all that, I should find her account troubling or unappealing, but in fact I find it strangely delightful.

03 September 2006

Blind

Mark A R Klieman has an interesting observation about the rôle of social policy research.
According to Eberstadt, the capacity of the Federal government to know what's going on in domestic policy is being systematically dismantled as one data-collection effort after another is zero-funded.
....
This is driven at least in part by conservative ideology: the right seems to think that the less we know about problems the less we'll be tempted to try to do something about them. If memory serves, sometime in the 1970s the Republican-Dixiecrat alliance actually passed an appropriations rider forbidding the development of “social indicators” to parallel the widely-published economic indicator series. That left us with unsatisfactory single numbers such as the poverty rate.

Eberstadt, in a conversation after the meeting, drew a parallel with the old conservative strategy of “starving the beast” by cutting taxes to make new social programs fiscally impossible. He summed up the apparent strategy of the Bush Administration as “feed the beast, but blind it.”

Yeah. All that research is stuff for the reality-based community; conservatives know better than to waste their time on such stuff.

02 September 2006

Olbermann vs. Rumsfeld

A few days ago, Donald Rumsfeld spoke to the American Legion, working the ol' dolchstoßlegende.
1919 was the beginning of a period where, over time, a very different set of views would come to dominate public discourse and thinking in the West.

Over the next decades, a sentiment took root that contended that if only the growing threats that had begun to emerge in Europe and Asia could be accommodated, then the carnage and the destruction of then-recent memory of World War I could be avoided.

It was a time when a certain amount of cynicism and moral confusion set in among Western democracies. When those who warned about a coming crisis, the rise of fascism and nazism, they were ridiculed or ignored. Indeed, in the decades before World War II, a great many argued that the fascist threat was exaggerated or that it was someone else's problem. Some nations tried to negotiate a separate peace, even as the enemy made its deadly ambitions crystal clear. It was, as Winston Churchill observed, a bit like feeding a crocodile, hoping it would eat you last.
....
I recount that history because once again we face similar challenges in efforts to confront the rising threat of a new type of fascism. Today—another enemy, a different kind of enemy—has made clear its intentions with attacks in places like New York and Washington, D.C., Bali, London, Madrid, Moscow and so many other places. But some seem not to have learned history's lessons.
....
And that is important in any long struggle or long war, where any kind of moral or intellectual confusion about who and what is right or wrong, can weaken the ability of free societies to persevere.

Keith Olbermann, the MSNBC commentator, comments.
About Mr. Rumsfeld's other main assertion, that this country faces a “new type of fascism:” as he was correct to remind us how a government that 'knew everything' could get everything wrong, so too was he right when he said that ... though probably not in the way he thought he meant it. This country faces a new type of fascism, indeed.
Follow the link and watch the Olberman video. Really, don't miss it.

Update:

Y'know, since Rumsfeld and Olberman both touch the war hawks' theme of “appeasement” and the shade of Neville Chamberlain, I realize that I'm long overdue to link Billmon's take on the lessons of Munich.

In the neocon wisdom tale, Munich is always about Neville Chamberlain and that scrap of paper. But that's only half the story—or not even half. Hitler might never have risen to power in the first place if the allies had dealt justly with Germany and the other defeated powers at Versailles, or if the Western governments of the 1920s and early '30s had shown one tenth the willingness to compromise with the democratic governments of the Weimer Republic that they later did to appease the Nazi regime.
....
The British and French only understand force, the would-be Furhrer shrieked. Germany must take what was rightfully hers, instead of going hat in hand to plead for concessions.

And of course, the allies proved Hitler right .... Weimar—and democracy—were discredited and disgraced in the eyes of millions of ordinary Germans long before they started flocking to Hitler's rallies.

And after the Nazis took power, the allies proved Hitler right yet again: They willingly gave him what they had refused the democratic governments of Weimer.

Billmon applies these lessons to the US and Iran, to chilling effect.

01 September 2006

Today's quote

James Ellroy writes noir pulp novels—in the same sense that Wagner wrote musicals. In an interview he comments on the film noir classic Double Indemnity.

Well, you know what? You meet a woman and maybe your lust for her will lead you to do things you wouldn't normally do. I've done it.

I've done it recently.

Can't wait to do it again.

Ellroy also says that De Palma's forthcoming film adaptation of his novel The Black Dahlia is “terrific.”

Girls are icky

Occasionally, I worry that I'm turning into some humourless strawfeminist who's exaggerating about sexism. Then I see something that reminds me that no, it's not my imagination. Like the idea that women need to be washed with Lysol to be attractive.