31 May 2007

Despair

In case you missed it, Joss Whedon is upset.
Dua Khalil, who was of the Yazidi faith, had been seen in the company of a Sunni Muslim, and possibly suspected of having married him or converted. That she was torturously murdered for this is not, in fact, a particularly uncommon story. But now you can watch the action up close on CNN. Because as the girl was on the ground trying to get up, her face nothing but red, the few in the group of more than twenty men who were not busy kicking her and hurling stones at her were filming the event with their camera-phones.

There were security officers standing outside the area doing nothing, but the footage of the murder was taken—by more than one phone—from the front row. Which means whoever shot it did so not to record the horror of the event, but to commemorate it. To share it. Because it was cool.

Mr Whedon goes on to talk about the poison of misogyny and a bunch of other things worth reading.

Digby is also on the case.

A gang of violent bullies, often at the behest of some authority figure, “sends a message” by publicly humiliating, maiming or killing one of their own who had the temerity to fail to properly conform. Whether for God or country or tribe, it's always some poor victim, lying on the ground, covering his or her head, surrounded by people who have turned into animals.

There are a lot of manifestations of this particular human organizational style, some much more sophisticated and stylized. The violence becomes more ritualized and the humiliation takes other forms but underneath it all, the same impulse to dominate drives a fair number of people of all cultures. It's just a matter of degree.

If you want to spoil your day, you can see video on Digby's page, in the CNN report, or (most painfully) on a post by the Chicago Tribune.

I'd like to connect the dots about mob rule and about the repugnant camera phone aspect. This intersection between recording technology and barbarism is neither new nor some phenomenon of the Middle East. People proudly capturing honour killings for posterity was pioneered here in the USA. David Neiwert of Orcinus observes:

I was struck, however, by how similar these images were to those from the lynching era, when black men were routinely killed by mass mobs in the most horrifying ways imaginable—including torturing them by flaying and dismembering them while still alive, setting them aflame, and then finally raising them aloft, often with a chain. The image above of the 1916 lynching of Jesse Washington in particular was reminiscent—not merely for the horror of the corpse itself, but the horror of the smug satisfaction on the faces of his lynchers.
(The link to the photo on Orcinus is broken, but if you want to further spoil your day with the image, Wikimedia has it.)

I'm cheating a little; Mr Neiwert was making not a comparison to Dua Khalil but to something else. Still, the comparison applies. The lynching photo in question was taken on the periphery of living memory, with other examples still more recent.

And of course we have not outgrown cruelty mixed with cameras; consider the example of Abu Ghraib.

30 May 2007

Flirting and otherwise

OK, people, for the record:

Flirting
An exchange with someone where the shape of your relationship remains uncertain, and the exchange is a way of figuring out what the two of you want
Hunting
An exchange with someone where you know the kind of relationship you're interested in, and your exchange is a way of finding out if that person is a good candidate for it
Banter
An exchange with someone where the shape of your relationship is clearly established, and your exchange is a way of playing with those known parameters

All three processes have their place, but it's important that you're clear on which process you're doing, both with yourself and with your interlocutor.

29 May 2007

The day after Memorial Day

Thomas Disch:
This has to be my favorite secret holiday,
and just to have said that much violates
sacred traditions, for what is celebrated
on War Guilt Tuesday (Kriegschuldentag
in German lands) are the acts we cannot speak of
committed under the oriflamme of All's Fair:
Hiroshima, Dresden, and jihads high and low.
The acts of torture our boys don't choose to
remember have their own darkling assizes
on War Guilt Tuesday as each veteran's personal
Banquo sits down beside him at breakfast
and devours a rasher of fried rapes.
As in the barracks they must affect
to make dumb jokes as though they were
talk-show hosts. But screw thyself
to the sticking point and how does the rest
of it go? Oh yes, you light it with a match.
Just imagine doing that to your own fiancée!
Suicide races are a traditional holiday pasttime
in the afternoon, and war games of all kinds.
In prisons and rehabs the blind are made
to fight with the blind using double-edged
razor blades embedded in baking potatoes.
At night everyone who isn't already wasted
watches slasher movies like Saw and Hostel.
Have you noticed how horror movies have been getting
so much better lately? There's a reason.
But for all the fun, you can bet everyone is glad
to return to their regular routines.

28 May 2007

Memorial Day

3455 and counting

Every one of them has a name.

~655,000 and counting

So many, and every one of them has a name, but nobody is keeping a list.

(Oh, and the US occupation of Iraq has now been longer than the American Civil War; we crossed that line a month ago.)

27 May 2007

LOLcats and ponies

David McRaney over at I Can Has Cheeseburger offers a surprisingly thoughtful analysis of LOLcats, digging into why the web is rife with running gags like this.

All of this churns at a rapid pace and evolves with each new generation. Eventually, something like the lolcats comes along and splinters the whole language schema into a new branch where all new in jokes, references and acceptable formats are born.

Lolcats are image macros featuring cats captioned with a specific form of language, one with no definitive label as of yet. I’ve seen it referred to as Kittahh and Kitteh before, but nothing has stuck. A clinical term, kitty pidgin, has also been coined because there seems to be some sort of order to the way sentences are constructed. The language may also derive from Meowchat, an IRC group who used to use similar diction when pretending to be cats online.

The phrase is usually white text with a solid black outline, and the grammar is consistently awful, as if the cat was trying to speak English but just couldn’t get the conjugation right.

Hmmnn. I see LOLcats as a daughter to the immortal “all your base are belong to us.”

My own personal favourite running web gag is left blogistan's pony. The root is Belle Waring's post If Wishes Were Horses, Beggars Would Ride—A Pony! DeLong calls it the Best Weblog Post Ever.

You see, wishes are totally free. It's like when you can't decide whether to daydream about being a famous Hollywood star or having amazing magical powers. Why not—be a famous Hollywood star with amazing magical powers! Along these lines, John has developed an infallible way to improve any public policy wishes. You just wish for the thing, plus, wish that everyone would have their own pony! So, in Chafetz' case, he should not only wish that Bush would say a lot of good things about democracy-building and fighting terrorism in a speech written for him by a smart person, he should also wish that Bush should actually mean the things he says and enact policies which reflect this, and he should wish that everyone gets a pony. See?

Add in an old joke:

Worried that their son was too optimistic, the parents of a little boy took him to a psychiatrist. Trying to dampen the boy’s spirits, the psychiatrist showed him into a room piled high with nothing but horse manure. Yet instead of displaying distaste, the little boy clambered to the top of the pile, dropped to all fours, and began digging.

“What do you think you’re doing?” the psychiatrist asked.

“With all this manure,” the little boy replied, beaming, “there must be a pony in here somewhere.”

That link attributes the joke as Ronald Reagan's favourite — in which he takes the lesson to be that it's good to be as optimistic as the little boy.

Left blogistan uses the pony to make the opposite point, invoking it as a metaphor for the right treating wishful thinking as serious policy analysis. Iraq is often cast as the room full of manure which Iraq war hawks want to keep digging through, looking for a pony. Heck, John McCain has repeated the metaphor himself, in so many words, saying his support for more military commitment is him “digging for a pony here.”

Bloggers' pony posts are often illustrated with cute or creepy-cute ponies, especially by Atrios, these days associated with the President's ever-falling position in polls.

The true master of this ongoing joke is The Editors at The Poor Man, who has renamed the blog the Poor Man Institute for Freedom, Democracy, and a Pony, writing posts like this one worried about the crisis of Peak Pony, what with all of the ponies people are wishing for these days.

26 May 2007

Amerika is wunderbar

German industrial/metal/dance band Rammstein are concerned about American cultural hegemony.

25 May 2007

Greenwald

Glenn Greenwald has some very good recent stuff.

He's done a good wrap-up of scary new developments on the NSA wiretapping story. It's too complicated to quote—though his conclusions aren't:

Does this sound in any way like the behavior of a government operating under the rule of law, which believes that it had legal authority to spy on Americans without the warrants required for three decades by law? How can we possibly permit our government to engage in this behavior, to spy on us in deliberate violation of the laws which we enacted democratically precisely in order to limit how they can spy on us, and to literally commit felonies at will, knowing that they are breaking the law?

How is this not a major scandal on the level of the greatest presidential corruption and lawbreaking scandals in our country's history?

His consternation is unsurprising in light of another essay of his about the Bush movement's rejection of rule of law. Really.
The Wall St. Journal online has today published a lengthy and truly astonishing article by Harvard Government Professor Harvey Mansfield, which expressly argues that the power of the President is greater than “the rule of law.”
....
Mansfield has real value for understanding the dominant right-wing movement in this country. Because he is an academic, and a quite intelligent one, he makes intellectually honest arguments, by which I mean that he does not disguise what he thinks in politically palatable slogans, but instead really describes the actual premises on which political beliefs are based.

And that is Mansfield's value; he is a clear and honest embodiment of what the Bush movement is. In particular, he makes crystal clear that the so-called devotion to a “strong executive” by the Bush administration and the movement which supports it is nothing more than a belief that the Leader has the power to disregard, violate, and remain above the rule of law. And that is clear because Mansfied explicitly says that.

And if you cannot get enough on that latter subject, Hilzoy at Obsidian Wings has more on Mansfield and why he is both scary and full of shit.

24 May 2007

Alignment

So there's a silly alignment quiz making the rounds, and ordinarily I don't go for them but I discovered that the alignment descriptions are kind of amusing. At least, they're amusing if you're geeky enough to know what “chaotic good alignment” means.


Lawful goodNeutral goodChaotic good
Lawful neutralTrue neutralChaotic neutral
Lawful evilNeutral evilChaotic evil

The thing that made me chuckle were the character examples for each category.


Abraham Lincoln, Sherlock Holmes The Dalai Lama, Indiana Jones Thomas Jefferson, Walt Whitman
Kang from Kung Fu Linus Torvalds, Batman Tyler Durden, Dr Victor Frankenstein
Hitler, Mao, Darth Vader Stalin, Long John Silver Blackbeard, Cruella de Ville

More where that came from, if you like that sort of thing; just follow the links at the top. (And since you asked, I'm neutral good, thank you very much.)

Oh, and if you missed it, this reminds me of my old post about gamer “motivational” posters, which has some good examples for the alignments.

23 May 2007

Pirates of the Caribbean recap

When Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, the final installment of John Williams' six-opera cycle Star Wars, came out a few years back, many people were confused about what had happened in episodes I and II, so I put together a little recap of the story so far. Several people said they found it helpful, and it certainly helped me get things straight in my own head.

Similarly, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest was a picture in which a hell of a lot happens, and many folks, including yours truly, came away a bit confused. With Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End opening very shortly, and the trailer looking really fun, I thought I would try my hand at recapping again.

So, in brief:

Dead Man's Chest was the story of the quest for the heart of Davy Jones. Jack Sparrow wants it as a way to escape from having to pay the debt of his soul to Jones. Lord Beckett wants it as a way to command Jones to use the Kraken to secure the sea for the East India Trading Company. Elizabeth Swann wants it to trade it to Beckett in exchange for freedom for herself and Will Turner ... who wants it not for himself or Elizabeth, but to fulfill his oath to kill Jones that he may win his father's freedom from serving aboard Jones' ship the Flying Dutchman. Former commodore James Norrington wants it to trade to Beckett to regain his honour and his sea captaincy. And Davy Jones himself wants to protect it from all of these interlopers.

The film concludes with the heart in Beckett's possession, through Norrington. Jack has perished at the tentacles of Jones' Kraken ... through Elizabeth's treachery. Everyone save Elizabeth mistakenly thinks that Jack died a selfless hero's death. Will mistakenly thinks that Elizabeth betrayed him by becoming Jack's lover. Davy Jones mistakenly thinks that Jack absconded with his heart.

Voodoo witch Tia Dalma has proposed that the crew of the now sunken Pearl attempt to bring back Jack Sparrow by traveling to World's End under the command of the mysteriously resurrected Barbossa.

Those are the basics, but there's a lot of stuff that has evidently been set up for callbacks in the next picture. I find that the best way to be clear about the details is to revisit the dramatis personæ ...

Davy Jones
Evil captain of the Flying Dutchman

As cruel and frightening as the Devil himself, Jones commands a host of magical powers which make him the greatest scourge of the sea. He can bind men to him and his ship in a Faustian bargain that extends their lives but slowly transforms them into monstrous sea creatures. He can command the terrible Kraken, whose great tentacles can sink any ship. He can mark men with the Black Spot, which draws the wrath of the Kraken.

Jones has two important vulnerabilities. He may only set foot on land once each ten years. And, to escape the pain of lost love, he carved out his own heart and locked it in the Dead Man's Chest, which was concealed on Isla Cruces until it was stolen; Jones believes Jack Sparrow to be responsible for his lost heart.

Jack Sparrow
Pirate captain of the Black Pearl

Jack gained the captaincy of the Pearl through a bargain with Davy Jones, who raised the ship from the depths for Jack in exchange for the promise of Jack's soul. Once in command, Jack lost the Pearl to a mutiny by his first mate, Barbossa, regaining the ship after defeating his mutinous crew and killing Barbossa. Knowing that Jones would soon come to claim his soul, Sparrow discovered that Jones possessed a valuable key which Jack hoped to steal and use as ransom.

With Capt Sparrow's contract up, Jones sent his crewman Bootstrap Bill Turner to mark Jack with the Black Spot. Thus vulnerable to the Kraken on the open ocean, Jack beached the Pearl on Isla de Pelegostos, where he was recognized as chief of the local cannibal tribe. But when the Pelegostos attempted to cook and eat him, Jack retook the helm of the Pearl and went to consult with the voodoo witch Tia Dalma.

Tia Dalma was surprised to have Jack coming to her for aid, since he possesses a magic compass which she traded to him some time ago. The compass points to the thing which the bearer wants most; Jack used it to find the hidden Isla de la Meurta when seeking his vengeance on Barbossa. But the compass has failed him; did he not know what he wanted?

Using the undead monkey mascot of the Black Pearl as payment, Sparrow learned from Tia Dalma several of Jones' secrets: that Jones kept the key with him at all times, that the key unlocked the Dead Man's Chest containing Jones' heart, Jones' inability to set foot on land, and a location where Jones and the Dutchman could be found. (Jack also acquired from Tia Dalma a jar of dirt of uncertain value, which would later be lost in a mishap during the confronatation with the Dutchman.)

Tia Dalma's guidance brought Sparrow to an encounter with Jones and the Dutchman at a shipwreck. Sparrow tricked Will Turner into being shanghaied onto Jones' crew, and won a few days' reprieve from Jones by promising to find a hundred new crewmembers for the Dutchman.

Seeking new crewman to trade to Jones at the pirate port of Tortuga, Jack fails to recruit the requisite hundred men ... but he does take on a few new crew members, including James Norrington and and Will Turner's fiancée Elizabeth Swann. Jack tells Elizabeth that Will has been captured by Davy Jones—leaving out his own complicity—and informs her that in order to rescue Will she wants to locate the Dead Man's Chest. Handing her his compass, Elizabeth's desire to find the Chest directs its needle, and with it Jack and crew come to Isla Cruces and unearth the Chest.

But Davy Jones has also come, frightened by his loss of the key to the chest. Will escapes from the Dutchman, bearing the key, and finding Jack, Elizabeth, and Norrington digging up the Chest. These four, plus the crew of the Dutchman and Pearl crewmen Pintel and Ragetti all compete to secure the chest ... and by extension, Jones' heart.

Jack removes the heart from the Chest and puts it in the jar of dirt, without realizing that it subsequently gets stolen out of the jar.

Back aboard the Pearl, Jack faces Jones and the Dutchman, confidently thinking he can escape Jones' wrath through possession of his heart. When Sparrow and Jones learn that Capt Sparrow does not in fact possess the heart, Jones summons the Kraken to attack the Pearl. In the confusion, Sparrow first attempts to slip away in the Pearl's single remaining longboat, but then he has a change of heart and returns to aid in the ship's defense. Largely as a result of Will Turner's leadership and daring, they succeed in driving back the Kraken briefly. But knowing that the Kraken will return, Jack regretfully orders the crew to abandon the Pearl.

As the crew departs, Jack is confronted by Elizabeth, who reminds him that the Kraken is not pursuing any of them—it only wants Jack. She tricks him, shackling him to the mast so that they may escape. He escapes from his shackles, too late to escape the Kraken but in time to stand and face his certain death sword in hand.

Lord Cutler Beckett
Carribean agent of the East India Trading Company

Cutler Beckett, wishing to see the era of piracy ended in favour of a maritime order of global trade, set many things in motion with his pursuit of Davy Jones' heart. With possession of the heart, he will control Jones, who controls the Kraken ... meaning that Lord Beckett will control the sea.

He possesses warrants for the arrest of Captain Jack Sparrow, as well as for Elizabeth Swann and Will Turner for having aided him. His soldiers seize and imprison Elizabeth and Will, and they face the death penalty. But Beckett also possesses a pardon and a letter of marque and reprisal, both signed by the King. The former will mean acquittal from the death penalty, the latter will turn its bearer into a privateer, a pirate with England's protection.

Beckett dispatches Will to find Jack Sparrow, offering Will the pardon and Jack the letters in exchange for Jack's compass. Beckett has encountered Jack Sparrow before, knows the compass' powers, and intends to use the compass to locate Davy Jones' heart.

Beckett is confronted by Elizabeth, who has escaped from prison with the aid of her father, Governor Weatherby Swann. At gunpoint, he gives her the letters of marque.

Though Elizabeth remains at large, Beckett threatens Governor Swann with his daughter's eventual capture and hanging. In exchange for Beckett's leniency with Elizabeth, Swann grants Beckett his loyalty and political influence.

At the end of Dead Man's Chest, Beckett acquires Jones' heart through James Norrington.

Beckett's reach is enhanced by his right-hand man, the shadowy cutthroat Mr Mercer.

Will Turner
Blacksmith turned freebooter

Arrested by Lord Beckett, together with his fiancée Elizabeth Swann on the morning of their wedding day, Will faces the death penalty for having aided Captain Jack Sparrow in the events of Curse of the Black Pearl. Beckett dispatched Will on a search for Capt Jack, offering the letters of marque to Jack and a pardon to Will in exchange for Jack's compass.

Will tracked Jack to Isla de Pelegostos, there joining his crew. Jack offered the compass to Will in exchange for Will's aid in locating Davy Jones' key. Trickery by Jack put Will aboard the Flying Dutchman, where he discovered his father, Bootstrap Bill Turner, among the crew. To locate the key, Will challenged Jones to a dice wager of his soul against the key. His father joined the wager, and overbid to protect Will, thus condemning himself to an eternity of servitude aboard the Dutchman. While among the crew, Will also learns that the key opens the Dead Man's Chest which contains Jones' heart.

Will stole the key and swore an oath to liberate his father by plunging his father's knife into the heart of Jones. Slipping off the Dutchman at Isla Cruces, he was reunited with Jack and the crew of the Dutchman, including Elizabeth, who he tells about Jack's treachery putting him aboard the Dutchman. He united the key with the Chest and joined the contest for possession of Jones' heart, drawing swords against both Jack and Norrington unsuccessfully.

Returning to the Pearl with Jack and the crew, Will daringly led the defense against the Kraken, having been a witness to previous attacks by the beast. He urged Jack to use the Pearl's superior speed in a bid to defeat the Dutchman so that he might liberate his father, but Jack preferred to try to run ... unsuccessfully, as they were overtaken by the Kraken. When Jack finally ordered the abandonment of the Pearl to the Kraken, Will surreptitiously saw Elizabeth kissing Jack just before Jack's final, fatal confrontation with the beast.

Returning with the Pearl crew to Tia Dalma's shack, despondent over both the lost opportunity to rescue his father and what he imagines to be the loss of Elizabeth's love, Will joins the Pearl crew in vowing to attempt a journey to World's End to recover Jack from death.

Tia Dalma asserts that Will has “a touch of destiny about him,” and with the possible exception of Elizabeth, Will is the most skilled swordsman of all of the characters.

Elizabeth Swann
Governor's daughter turned freebooter

Confronting Beckett after her escape and Will's beginning his quest for Jack's compass, Elizabeth learned of Lord Beckett's desire for the compass as a tool to find the Chest, and obtained from Beckett letters of marque and reprisal.

Disguised as a boy, Elizabeth made her way to the pirate port of Tortuga, where she found Jack recruiting sailors (as part of his ploy to deliver new crewmen to Davy Jones). Joining the crew of the Pearl, she learns from Jack that Will has been shanghaied aboard the Dutchman. Jack convinces her that the way to recover Will is through possession of the Dead Man's Chest, and her desire for the chest enables her to locate it using the compass ... though occasional thoughts of lust cause the compass needle to drift over to point to Jack Sparrow.

When it became clear that the Kraken was inescapable, Elizabeth realized that the remaining crew of the Pearl could survive if they were separated from Jack, who bearing the Black Spot was the Kraken's true target. Distracting Jack with a kiss, she shackled him to the mast of the Pearl so the crew could make good their escape.

Jack, almost pleased, calls her “pirate” as she leaves. But she is guilt-ridden at her betrayal of him, and this guilt drives her to join the crew in their attempt to recover Jack in a quest to World's End.

James Norrington
Rum-soaked former Commodore

Onetime rival to William Turner for Elizabeth Swann's affections, Norrington lost his commission in the British Navy after his obsessive pursuit of Jack Sparrow drove him to sink a ship in a hurricane. A broken man, he became a drunkard haunting the alleys of Tortuga ... until, desperate, he joined Sparrow's crew.

Once aboard the Pearl, Norrington overheard Elizabeth offering Beckett's letters of marque and reprisal to Capt Sparrow in exchange for the Dead Man's chest, and so under cover of the confusion at Isla Cruces he stole both the letters of marque and Davy Jones' heart. The crew of the Pearl presumes Norrington dead at the hands of Jones' crew, but in fact he survived to bring the heart to Lord Beckett and thus claim Beckett's signature on the letters of marque.

Tia Dalma
Voodoo witch

Aiding the crew of the Pearl for her own hidden purposes, Tia Dalma may once have been lover to both Jack Sparrow and Davy Jones. (Tia Dalma and Davy Jones possess matching heart/crab shaped lockets.)

By means unknown, she has resurrected Jack's old rival Barbossa, who she says can lead the crew through the treacherous waters of World's End to recover Jack Sparrow from death.

Barbossa
Mutinous captain of the Black Pearl

Leader of the mutiny against Jack Sparrow, died by Jack's hand at the end of Curse of the Black Pearl, but found alive in the company of Tia Dalma at the end of Dead Man's Chest.

22 May 2007

The crisis

Guess who said this:
I'm trying to say to you, be a part of the change. No one else is going to do it. The politicians are paralyzed. The people have to do it for themselves! Our democracy hasn't been working very well—that's my opinion. We've made a bunch of serious policy mistakes. But it's way too simple and way too partisan to blame the Bush-Cheney Administration. We've got checks and balances, an independent judiciary, a free press, a Congress—have they all failed us? Have we failed ourselves?
Hint: It's someone who knows about this from very direct personal experience.

21 May 2007

Candidates

John Moe at McSweeney's Internet Tendency identifies the pros and cons of the top 20 possible Republican candidates for President.
8.

NEWT GINGRICH

Pro: Well known.

Con: See above.

Of course, he also analyzes the Democratic candidates.
10.

JIMMY CARTER

Pro: Nobel Prize winner; available; just as good at not knowing what the hell to do about Iran as anyone else.

Con: Judging by photos, approximately 415 years old.

Candidacies by Zombie Ronald Reagan, Optimus Prime, Bigfoot, and you are also considered.

20 May 2007

Stab in the back redux

Mark Kleiman has a request.
I know that supporters of the currently ruling coalition of crooks, warmongers, torturers, incompetents, and theocrats are deeply, deeply hurt when they and their pet politicians are compared to Nazis. But could someone suggest to them—politely, of course—that it would help if they stopped borrowing Nazi iconography and phraseology?
Kleiman is talking about a particularly vivid example of one of my favourite subjects, the dolchstoßlegende.

18 May 2007

Values issues

Ladies and gentlemen, the current three frontrunner GOP candidates, from the recent candidates' debate:

Giuliani:

I would tell the people who had to do the interrogation to use every method they could think of. It shouldn't be torture, but every method they can think of ...
Torture people, but just don't call it torture.

Romney:

I want them on Guantanamo, where they don't get the access to lawyers they get when they're on our soil .... My view is, we ought to double Guantanamo .... and enhanced interrogation techniques have to be used—not torture but enhanced interrogation techniques, yes.
We need to lock up more people without due process, and torture them. But don't call it torture.

McCain:

When I was in Vietnam, one of the things that sustained us, as we went—underwent torture ourselves, is the knowledge that if we had our positions reversed and we were the captors, we would not impose that kind of treatment on them.
Having been tortured, I've noticed that it's generally a bad idea.

Giuliani and Romney were vigorously applauded by the audience.

16 May 2007

Victory

Recent evidence suggests that the cosmos needs me to quote Stephen Mitchell's translation of Tao Te Ching XXXI.
Weapons are the tools of violence;
all decent men detest them.

Weapons are the tools of fear;
a decent man will avoid them
except in the direst necessity
and, if compelled, will use them
only with the utmost restraint.
Peace is his highest value.
If the peace has been shattered,
how can he be content?
His enemies are not demons,
but human beings like himself.
He doesn't wish them personal harm.
Nor does he rejoice in victory.
How could he rejoice in victory
and delight in the slaughter of men?

He enters a battle gravely,
with sorrow and with great compassion,
as if he were attending a funeral.
(Attentive readers may recognize this from my old post about Hiroshima.)

Falwell

I didn't post an obit for Jerry Falwell yesterday because I couldn't think of anything useful to say. Don't speak ill of the dead and all that.

Pagan blogger Jason Pitzl-Waters at The Wild Hunt, surprisingly, finds the words.

Though I'm sure many of us would deny it, in some ways Falwell was a great boon to legitimizing modern Paganism. He was a self-constructing straw man for the intolerance and hypocrisy of Christianity.
....
His pure hatred and vitriol forced many mainline Christians to define themselves by what they were not, which is not a Christian like Jerry Falwell.
....
His intolerant buffoonery was the perfect caricature of anyone opposing the free exercise of our faiths. It exposed the dark underbelly of monotheism and in turn allowed the “mainstream” religions to move towards our acceptance (or at least co-existence) by rejecting Falwell.
Hmmnn.

15 May 2007

Warren Ellis

Publisher's Weekly unwisely interviews comics writer Warren Ellis about his forthcoming first novel, Crooked Little Vein.
Publisher's Weekly: Were there any attempts by your publisher to censor or tone down the more provocative content?

Warren Ellis: Absolutely none. Honestly, I think they wanted more sex. You know book people.

It's not your normal author's interview.

14 May 2007

Oil for food

Max at MaxSpeak, You Listen:
Even my hate-filled imagination couldn't have concocted this.
John Cole at Balloon Juice:
Chevron finally admitted to real wrongdoing in knowingly working with Saddam to circumvent the oil-for-food program. So who was in charge of politically-sensitive decisionmaking at Chevron? Funny you should ask.
Brad DeLong:
Condi Rice, while on Chevron's board of directors, paid off Saddam Hussein ... seems to be what happened. I can't see how the board committee she was on could not have approved of it.
Digby of Hullabaloo:
Imagine If This Were A Democrat
The Carpetbagger Report has the details.

13 May 2007

Mother's Day

Thanks to Digby, I now know that Mother's Day wasn't invented by Hallmark after all, but by a woman named Julia Ward Howe.

With a name like that, of course it turns out that she was a Unitarian feminist suffragist abolitionist pacifist. (And also, rather oddly, the author of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, though it turns out that if you check out all of the verses it isn't quite the song that one imagines.)

This kind of stuff is why I don't understand people uncomfortable with the word “feminist” because they think it comes with “too much baggage.” I'm happy to be a feminist if it means I get to carry the baggage of the original Mother's Day Proclamation from 1870:

Arise, then, women of this day!
Arise, all women who have breasts,
Whether our baptism be of water or of tears!

Say firmly:
We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.
From the bosom of the devastated Earth a voice goes up with our own.
It says: “Disarm! Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.”
Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil at the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel.

Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace,
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God.

In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And at the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.

Sounds like a great plan to me. Happy Mother's Day.

Oh, and Mom? Thanks. Thanks especially for raising me to dig stuff like this.

12 May 2007

Laserblast

I long felt that I might be the only person who had ever actually seen the cheap '70s movie Laserblast. Apparently not. Nacho at Great Society has a full report, with more information than I ever wanted to know about this film that I saw a couple of times on TV when I was a teenager.
Billy, poisoned by the alien gun, goes zombiefied when he gets angry. He heads out to reap revenge against those who have wronged him—his peers, his doctor, the local cops, and advertisements for Star Wars.

The more he seeks revenge, the more detached he gets from his pathetic life. Meanwhile, the reptile aliens are on hot on his trail.
....
Now, I know what you're thinking. “Nacho! You just ruined the movie!” Trust me, I didn't. With something like Laserblast, it's all about watching the movie, because there is no way to describe it. You'll see it and you'll feel like an alien presence has entered your life, even though you knew the outcome well in advance. I've probably seen it several dozen times and, every time, I walk away with the sense that something is just not quite right in the universe.

That last is spot-on. A world that produces a film like Laserblast not quite sane, and seeing it is a bit like reading the Necronomicon.

Nacho sees this as cause to recommend the film. I'm not sure I agree.

11 May 2007

Not safe for work

Well, (mostly!) the pictures are only a little too spicy for work, but that doesn't mean that Babes With Books isn't fetish pornography.

Super

Luxcannon is evidently planning a superhero costume party.
Your Holy Guardian Angel, who is the source of your super powers, not only already knows what your secret identity is, but in fact has spent years doing the hard work of costumed vigilante identity development.
I knew it! My Holy Guardian Angel wants to to put on a cape and fight crime!

10 May 2007

Clinton

Mark Schmitt contemplates Hillary Clinton's campaign. It's kind of inside baseball stuff, for the hardcore, but very interesting if you're into that sort of thing.
I have a feeling that Mark Penn, Senator Clinton's pollster and apparently her de facto campaign manager, is going to start getting some close, and long overdue, scrutiny.
He says this because of an article by Anne Kornblut, pulling from it stuff like this:
She establishes that Penn is the driving force behind Clinton's refusal to say more than “if I knew then what I know now” on Iraq, and further that he holds that view in part because he comes from what she calls “the national security wing” of the Democratic Party, and in part because he is an actual not-so-liberal hawk, having polled for Menachem Begin in Israel and Joe Lieberman—and breaking with Lieberman now only because, “when the war went south, Lieberman went north.” (The only problem with the Iraq war is that it didn't go well.)
I'm not sure if that means that I should be more or less enthusiastic about Senator Clinton's candidacy.

Because on the one hand, it's exactly the kind of manipulative “centrist” DLC crap that made me oppose Bill Clinton in the primaries in '92, was the worst part of his administration, and the thing that I think is most wrong with the Dems now.

But on the other hand, Bill won the primaries, won the election, and by my lights was as good a President as I expect to see in my lifetime. So maybe my judgement on this point isn't so hot.

09 May 2007

Vietnam war

They say that young men die in wars to serve the vanities of old men.

Not quite. It turns out, from fascinating polling data on the Vietnam war, that the opposite is true.

There were many polls on public opinion during the war, and they show a consistent pattern by age. Young people were more likely to support the war at the beginning, when it was popular, and more likely to support it at the end, when it was not.
....
Other common beliefs about public opinion on the Vietnam war are also false. Educated people were more likely to support the war, not less. There is not as much data on the subject, but draft status did not seem to affect opinions on the war.

Some common beliefs about the war are correct. Women were more dovish than men, and blacks more dovish than whites. All the patterns that I have mentioned were also found in public opinion during the Korean War and World War II.

Comparison to polling data about Iraq is left as an exercise for the reader. (Hint: Americans don't like either war.)

08 May 2007

Petition

I know it's easy to go berserk with web petitions, but I thought this one was worth my time.
Delivery date: June 26, 2007

To My Members of Congress:

The Constitution and due process are in danger in America, as the Bush administration continues to run roughshod over our most fundamental constitutional rights.

We can no longer stand on the sidelines while the president extinguishes the light of American values, our civil liberties, and respect for law.

The America we know is disappearing, and the time to reverse this trend is now. I urge you to act immediately to:

  1. Restore habeas corpus and due process.
  2. Pass the Restoring the Constitution Act of 2007.
  3. End torture and abuse in secret prisons.
  4. Stop extraordinary rendition: secretly kidnapping people and sending them to countries that torture.
  5. Close the detention center at Guantánamo Bay and give those held there access to justice.
  6. Investigate wrongdoing and ensure those who broke the law are held accountable.
  7. Restore American values and the rule of law.
Our commitment to freedom and fairness has made America the great country that it is today.

That is why we’ve come together to demand that you act immediately to preserve the hard-won rights that define us as a nation.

I stand with the ACLU and my fellow Americans, in person or in spirit, as we gather in Washington to restore our America this June 26, 2007.

Sincerely,

Jonathan Korman
San Francisco CA 94109

Torture and habeas corpus.

The ACLU should be out there fighting for the uncomfortable edge cases that make our civil liberties protections secure: free speech for Nazis and pornographers, keeping nativity scenes off of the lawn at City Hall, preventing unreasonable searches and seizures by helping criminals get off when cops cheat, stuff like that.

Instead they're too busy working to keep the US from acting like a totalitarian Latin American dictatorship. I am angry and ashamed.

More details, and some tomfoolery, at FindHabeas.com.

Some dare call it conspiracy

My non-local readers may or may not know that a few days ago, in a devastating accident, a gasoline tanker truck exploded on an overpass at the “MacArthur maze,” the most important freeway interchange in the San Francisco Bay Area; the overpass collapsed, ruining both it and the freeway below.

Accident?

OR WAS IT?!!!???

The folks writing at 4/29truth.com are questioning the “official story.”

We are a group of proud and loyal American patriots who are troubled by too many questions and not enough answers. We will not rest until the true story of 4/29 can be told.
They have the guts to ask the tough questions.

“Who is responsible for this terrible tragedy?” we must ask who stood to gain the most. George Soros? The California Department of Transportation? The Jews?

Damn straight. And their comment threads are the best part. Like this insightful observation from brave patriot Harry Paratestes:

i think we can all agree that this was the work of the jews

lets examine the facts....

the jews have access to this section of freeway

the jews have access to semi trucks

the jews have magical flamable fluids that burn longer and hotter than any protestant fuels (remember hanukkah....yeah how do u think those candles stayed lit?! jew magic i tell you)

the jews only come out at night…this accident happened at night coincidence? i think not

the jews have a motive….they want all the gold in san francisco to be theirs! so by blowing up the freeway they can keep those dirty protestants out in the east bay and central valley where they belong

the jews are jews

so i think this is ample evidence to determine that this was in fact the work of the jews. end.

Keep up the good work, 4/29truth.com!

07 May 2007

Anatomy of a disinformation campaign

Maybe you've seen this story around about the guy sueing his drycleaners for $65 million. A friend of mine blogged it a few days ago, and it lead me to wonder what was going on.

I was immediately skeptical of the story, having read Teresa Nielsen Hayden's long essay Common Fraud. I've blogged it before, because it's one of the best essays in the blogosophere, and important for every American citizen to read.

TNH lays out how corporate money underwrites a campaign to mislead the public into believing in an epidemic of outrageous lawsuits, and how difficult it is to root out the truth. She says, memorably:

deceiving us has become an industrial process

So the $65 million pants story struck me as fishy. Because how did this story come to be?

Consider the way that corporate interests created the widespread misreporting of the McDonald's coffee case in order to feed the myth of frivolous lawsuits. If you'll pardon the pun, consider me once burned, twice shy.

The guy filing the lawsuit obviously is not really expecting to win $65 million in a lawsuit. So there's at least something important about him, and his intentions, that this story doesn't make clear.

I do know that this story suits the interests of the American Tort Reform Association just fine. And I'd bet $65 million, if I had it, that they prepared this story and wrapped it up with a bow for Lubna Takruri, Associated Press Writer.

I commented as much on my friend's blog, and he promised me dinner if I could prove that the ATRA were behind the story. So I did a little detective work.

Searching Google News I found 8 articles about “Roy Pearson,” the guy filing the suit, on or before 1 May, starting with a Washington Post column by Marc Fisher.

On 1 May, the ATRA press release went out, and also on that day the SF Examiner ran an editorial by the head of the ATRA on the subject. I saw a couple of other letters to the editor from this character while hunting, but I lost the links and cannot provide dates. But it makes me suspect that every major paper in the country got a letter from this guy.

Another seven articles turned up on the subject the next day, doubling the tally.

When I commented on my friend's blog around midday on 3 May, another 20 articles had turned up.

I also emailed Mr Fisher of the Post, who dismissed the idea that he would follow up a story from an “interest group;” he said that the story came from a guy at the courthouse who was disgusted with what had happened.

Now that the story's been picked up by the AP wire, it's everywhere. The AP story quotes the ATRA ... but there's no way to tell if the Associated Press actually got the story originally from the ATRA.

No new information about Pearson's intentions has become available.

Looks like the trail is cold, and I didn't quite win dinner. Do the stories make clear what the hell is going on? No. Do the stories advance the ATRA's agenda? Hell yes. Did the ATRA pump up the story? Definitely. Is that why it was covered by AP? Unknowable.

Lots of smoke, but no fire. There's something deeply fishy about the whole story. The forces of “tort reform” certainly have both motive and opportunity. But I can't prove that there's a corporate disinformation campaign driving the story's spread, I'm just a guy with a blog. This a job for journalists, but journalists can't be trusted to do this kind of detective work.

This is exactly what Teresa Nielsen Hayden was cautioning about. Deceiving us has become and industrial process.


Update: Teresa Nielsen Hayden and Hilzoy both have interesting comment threads on the story.

06 May 2007

Reagan

So Yglasias noticed something during the recent Republican presidential candidates' debate.
Giuliani said the only thing worse than an American-led military offensive against Iran would be Iran having nuclear weapons, which he called “the worst nightmare” of the Cold War. The way to stop Iran, he said, was resolute American leadership facing down the Iranian president.

“He has to look at an American president, and he has to see Ronald Reagan,” Giuliani said.

Yglasias notes that the Iranians have rather different memories of Reagan than Guliani apparently does, and Hilzoy of Obsidian Wings further explores why having the Iranians see a president like Reagan is a very bad idea.

Today's quote

From Marcus Aurelius:
Be content to seem to be what you really are

05 May 2007

Fear

Poet Kazim Ali describes a run-in with the authorities.
Because of my recycling the bomb squad came, the state police came. Because of my recycling buildings were evacuated, classes were canceled, campus was closed. No. Not because of my recycling. Because of my dark body. No. Not because of my dark body. Because of his fear. Because of the way he saw me. Because of the culture of fear, mistrust, hatred, and suspicion that is carefully cultivated in the media, by the government, by people who claim to want to keep us safe.
....
At some length several of my faculty colleagues were able to get through to the police and get me on a cell phone where I explained to the university president and then to the state police that the box contained old poetry manuscripts that needed to be recycled. The police officer told me that in the current climate I needed to be more careful about how I behaved. “When I recycle?” I asked.

The university president appreciated my distress about the situation but denied that the call had anything to do with my race or ethnic background. The spokesperson of the university called it an “honest mistake,” not referring to the young man from ROTC giving in to his worst instincts and calling the police but referring to me who made the mistake of being dark-skinned and putting my recycling next to the trashcan.

04 May 2007

In case you haven't seen this

  1. Go to maps.Google.com
  2. Click on Get directions
  3. From New York, NY
  4. To Paris, France
  5. Read line #23

Whoa

The UK Guardian headline Queen Elizabeth to Visit Jamestown gave me a little jolt. Had the internet slipped a few hundred years backward in time, and sideways to a parallel universe?

Project management

Ottercat offers ten reasons why project management is like passing a kidney stone.
10. Only after a long painful process results are achieved.

9. The expected results do not fit the available constraints.

8. You start drinking. A lot.

7. A lot of biproducts are produced along the way.

6. The process will finish when it's ready, and not before.

5. Both involve blood, sweat, and tears.

4. You feel as though you've brought something new into the world.

3. It seems as though product delivery will never occur.

2. The release is rough around the edges, but at least it's finally out.

And the #1 reason.....

1. You constantly remind yourself that “This, too, shall pass.”

Igloowhite has a more sanguine description.
Throw a glass plate on the floor and it will fly into a hundred-odd pieces of chaotically regulated size and shape, as determined by the material properties of the plate and the Hertzian propagation of force through it.

Here's what won't happen. The pieces will not zip back together like amorphous choreographed cockroaches pulling a cheerleading routine. The plate will not reassemble itself for the fuck of it, and if you don't like it take it up with the Second Law of Thermodynamics, because that's entropy kids and all atom-smasher coffee-house thought experiment bullshit aside it means cry your baby eyes out I don't care—Time has a direction. And on a strictly personal scale it means you get a finite amount of it at the starting gun and the meter is running down to zero RIGHT FUCKING NOW.

You can chop it up like julienned carrots. You can melt it down like TNT and pour it into shell casings. You can manage and schedule and pencil and move around little rectangles of blue pixels on your monitor with your mouse and it's all shit because the one thing you can't do with time is get more of it.

The Project Manager's job is to manage time. Time and resources. And Resource Number One is time.

I am a time machine in a button-down cotton shirt from J. Crew.

I know the past, control the present, and create the future.

I almost wound up a project manager. Dodged a bullet, I did.

02 May 2007

Imus

I suspect that many of my readers are too genteel to have followed the media feeding frenzy over Don Imus getting called out for a racist, sexist slur and consequently losing his job.

I didn't blog it earlier because I don't have much to add that hasn't already been said. It was a spiteful little slur, and it is right that CBS took away the man's big microphone. Though they're a little late—it surfaces as a result of the news that Imus was always a creep. I hope his comeuppance is a lesson to the many other white guys in media playing the same game, though I'm not holding my breath.

But I find that while I don't have much to say, I have a couple of interesting things to link.

Pericles reflects on how Imus can claim that his comments weren't racist.

Never be surprised when old white guys seem to have some incredibly strange definition of racist. To them, the word means someone who wants to take action to harm people of another race, for no reason other than race. If you call them racists, that's what they think you're accusing them of. And they'll be outraged, because they've never lynched anybody. They don't even consciously wish blacks harm.

Not even the nappy-headed ho's. What outrages Imus is that he knows he doesn't hate the Rutgers women's basketball team. How, he wonders, could anyone think that he does? He doesn't even know them.

And he doesn't hate people he doesn't know, just because of their skin color. That would be disgusting, he thinks. That would be racist.

And comedy writer John Rogers at Kung Fu Monkey does some subtle analysis of how “humourous” comments like Imus' work, and why this one certainly wasn't funny.
Humorists don't use jokes to establish power. We use jokes to steal power. We use jokes to steal power from the audience. We use jokes to steal power from smarter, better looking people. We use jokes to steal power from powerful men and women, politicians and celebrities.

The power relationship is why you need to be self-effacing—if you're not in a power negative position, you're kind of breaking the contract.
....
The guy's been a frikkin' cretin for years, and this was really not that different objectively
....
Anyway, why this comment and why now?

For all these years, Imus stayed, barely, on the right side of the power equation. Always gone after public figures, or his bosses ...

... but then he screwed up. He didn't steal power, he used it. Used it to say just shitty things about people who, in our minds, just didn't deserve it.

He broke the power equation.

01 May 2007

That special day of the year

Yes, it's both May Day and Beltane. Yezida offers us the winning combination:
Happy “International Have Sex With a Worker Day!!!”