Where is my faith? Even deep down ... there is nothing but emptiness and darkness ... If there be God—please forgive me.I truly have no idea how to process this information. But I feel certain that Christopher Hitchens is sharpening his poison pen—the one which gave us the obnoxious atheist screed God is Not Great and the cold-blooded monograph The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice.
31 August 2007
29 August 2007
By midnight on Monday, the White House knew. Monday night I was at the state Emergency Operations Center and nobody was aware that the levees had breeched. Nobody.The charge is devastating: That, on August 29, 2005, the White House withheld from the state police the information that New Orleans was about to flood. From almost any other source, I would not have believed it. But this was not just any source. The whistle-blower is Dr. Ivor van Heerden, deputy director of the Louisiana State University Hurricane Center, the chief technician advising the state on saving lives during Katrina.
I’d come to van Heerden about another matter, but in our talks, it was clear he had something he wanted to say, and it was a big one. He charged that the White House, FEMA and the Army Corp hid, for critical hours, their discovery that the levees surrounding New Orleans were cracking, about to burst and drown the city.
Understand that Katrina never hit New Orleans. The hurricane swung east of the city, so the state evacuation directors assumed New Orleans was now safe—and evacuation could slow while emergency efforts moved east with the storm.
But unknown to the state, in those crucial hours on Monday, the federal government’s helicopters had filmed the cracks that would become walls of death by Tuesday.
In the American media there are two constants. In politics, it is always and forever 1968, and liberals are Dirty Fucking Hippies. In culture, anyone who decides to poke their head out of the cultural world of the CBS primetime line-up is a sad, basement-dwelling loner screaming into his Hello Kitty pillow as crackling video dubs of the original Spider-Man cartoon flicker on his television.(The links are mine, not Mr Rogers’.) Via Wil Wheaton.
28 August 2007
27 August 2007
Banks are party of a system that runs on trust, and once trust ends, the whole system unravels. So banking is the only system in which one does not gain from the failure of one’s competitor. I’ve heard people describe it as the situation you get in a rugby scrum when somebody loses his pants: all the players mill around and make a racket while the unfortunate recovers his dignity. Then they give high fives all round and charge off again down field.
26 August 2007
25 August 2007
No, I'm not attending Burning Man this year. Yes, I've broken down on my every-second-year rule. But I thought I would be simpler to follow this advice from Ozzy:
- Stack all your fans in one corner of the living room. Put on your most fabulous outfit. Turn the fans on full blast. Dump a vacuum cleaner bag in front of them.
- Buy a new set of expensive camping gear. Break it.
- Set your house thermostat so it's 50 degrees for the first hour of sleep and 100 degrees the rest of the night.
- Before eating any food, drop it in a sandbox and lick a battery.
- Have a 3 a.m. soul baring conversation with a drag nun in platforms, a crocodile and Bugs Bunny. Be unable to tell if you're hallucinating. Lust after Bugs Bunny.
There's lots more items on the list, if you dare to look. Special mention for this one, which is genius:
- Read Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany. Read The City Not Long After by Pat Murphy. Cut off the bindings, throw all the pages up in the air, and shuffle them back together. Reread The City After Dhalgren by Samuel Murphy. Burn it. Read the ashes.
I'm tempted to actually do that one, given that I dearly love Dhalgren but have never succeeded in getting through it cover-to-cover.
24 August 2007
The skeptical disproof of the existence of God: “I doubt, therefore God does not exist”. God, if He existed, would be a Thing of such perfection that His existence could not be doubted. But His existence is doubted. Therefore, He does not exist.Well, I'm glad that's finally settled.
God is of necessity too large and imposing to get lost in the sock-drawer. If you look around carefully and don't see any God, there isn't one. God isn't like a ring of keys that might still show up.
Actually, this is about as convincing as the average “proof” of the existence of God—not very. The usual proof-of-the-existence-of-God business is chock full of undefined terms and hidden assumptions.
But this is very reminiscent of conversations I had with evangelicals when I was hanging around with them in college. (It's a long story.) They'd tell me that God was obviously reaching out to me but I couldn't perceive it because I was “running from God.” I would say, “Haven't you read Exodus 3? This God you say you're talking about, it seems to me that when he really wants to talk to you, there's no wriggling out of it.”
23 August 2007
Reminds me of the Twilight Zone episode “A Nice Place to Visit.”
Sign at the Golden GateEach peach you eat reduces the time
you must serve in Paradise. There
there can be no escape from the retributive
justice of pleasure visited upon pleasure
forever and ever. The same pleasures
that were your undoing here will plague
you eternally. You'll have your plate
heaped with All You Can Eat! You'll hate
your enemies and batter them senseless,
and they'll return, hungry for more.
You'll throw up all you ate and see
your plate heaped high again, forever
unsated. You'll never read a book or see
a movie that might depress you, no Antonioni,
only upbeat anime, stories about ponies
who win every race they enter,
but at the same time you'll think
you are so smart your brain is scudding
through the sky, another form of cumulus.
No intelligence enormous as yours.
You will keep returning to that casino
and its long, mirrored gallery
of jackpots, eternally deluded.
22 August 2007
In particular, I've taken a shine to Nathan Rabin and his My Year of Flops series about failed movies.
Take for instance this bit from his review of The Real Cancun.
In a rare display of taste, the American public wholeheartedly rejected The Real Cancun and its cynical, pandering assault on cinema. It turns out people still want movies to mean something, even if it’s just two hours in air-conditioned comfort watching giant shape-shifting robots fighting each other. I never felt prouder to be an American than when I learned that The Real Cancun grossed just over two million dollars its opening weekend.Or this from his surprisingly warm review of Doctor Detroit.
Thank you, Mr. And Mrs. America and all the ships at sea. You saved yourselves and me from an endless deluge of dispiriting reality movies. The resounding, life-affirming commercial failure of The Real Cancun marks perhaps the first time someone actually went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people.
Are we supposed to laugh with it or at it? Is it intentionally or unintentionally stupid? The presence of smart professionals like Aykroyd and Friedman would seem to suggest it is, but audiences and critics at the time certainly didn’t embrace it as subversive meta-commentary on cheesy comedy.Or, to a similar theme, Commentary Tracks of the Damned, a surprisingly entertaining feature: reviews of directors' commentary tracks on DVDs of bad movies. Each one is divided into the same sections:
So is Doctor Detroit a Failure, Fiasco or Secret Success? I certainly enjoyed parts of it, but I feel like giving a movie this ridiculous the highest grade would diminish the highest ranking I’ve concocted for my fuzzy, often maddening little rating system. So I guess I’m going to label it a supremely fun Fiasco ...
- Tone of commentary
- What went wrong
- Comments on the cast
- Inevitable dash of pretension
- Commentary in a nutshell
21 August 2007
A country that can't keep its bridges from collapsing is not going to be running the world very much longer. That's the interesting thing about the standard historical trajectory of imperial elites ... at a certain point they either (1) forget the power they can wield outside their country ultimately derives from a healthy society beneath them, or (2) understand that but decide they'd rather be comparatively more powerful within a poorer society and less powerful outside.I got this from Patrick Nielsen Hayden, who quoted the whole example about Saudi Arabia, saying “This articulates and clarifies a whole bunch of things I’ve been coming to suspect for a very long time.” Yeah.
To understand choice #2 it's useful to look at an extreme example, like Saudi Arabia ...
20 August 2007
On October 27th, 1987, among the other Saturday morning cartoons, ABC broadcast “The Collect Call of Cathulhu,” in which the Ghostbusters confront Cthulhu.
And of course YouTube has it. (Well, most of it.) But don't watch. The sight of it will drive you mad, I am sure.
He's been experimenting with web comics, and trying some interesting structural experiments. The Right Number not only uses a clever format, it even uses a few twists on the format to good effect ... literally, in one place.
19 August 2007
So there's an episode of the '80s TV show Buck Rogers in the 25th Century which I vividly recall because it contained some actual science fiction. Buck finds himself in prison, and is astonished by the inmates.
When did the penal system go co-ed?
You know, boys and girls together.
How else would you do it?
Men in one place, women in another.
You know the problems that would cause?
After writing this up and dropping it in my drafts folder, I was able to get the exact quote as a result of Rogers at Kung Fu Monkey, who led me to discover a YouTube video which starts off with the exact scene. It turns out that the prisoner Buck was talking to was played by none other than Jamie Lee Curtis.
17 August 2007
The problem is, these yahoos have managed an ugly trick. They have turned criticism of the policies of Bastards in Suits into criticism of The People in Uniform Getting Shot At. This, of course, is completely wrong, as one can easily tell the difference between the Bastards in Suits and The People in Uniform Getting Shot At. One group is in Suits, and Not Getting Shot At, while another is in Uniform, and Getting Shot At. Please, try to grasp this. Not the same.Click through; there's lots more, including a wise discourse on the use of the term “chickenhawk,” and it's all spot-on.
There is a flip side. Some people confuse supporting the Bastards in Suits for supporting The People in Uniform Getting Shot At. This is, again, ridiculous. If the history of modern warfare has taught us anything, it's that the Bastards in Suits spend an awful lot of time working the kinks out of plans involving The People in Uniform dying unpleasantly. They often screw that up. When they do screw up, it is incumbent upon Bastards in Suits to suffer criticism and fix the situation, as by comparison The People in Uniform are suffering shattered skulls, missing limbs and death. Which is, on my scale, exponentially more traumatic than criticism.
Some people even seem confused on how we are criticizing the Bastards in Suits. The Bastards have a job to do. They are not doing it. Period.
16 August 2007
It seems he has us fighting a big war against nasty, nasty aliens ... though we have some kind of Cosmic Destiny on our side. Ho hum. The graphics in the little trailer video are pretty impressive, but I find myself asking—why is it always war?
So I'm about to grumble a bit on the subject here when I notice something in the little feature list below the video. PvP combat, alien technology, “immersive tactile environments,” blah blah blah, and wait a minute ...
Ethical Parables – Encounter ethical decisions while attempting to complete goals or missions that affect the people and environments around themAh. Interesting.
John Rogers at Kung Fu Monkey has come up with an observation even better than my own contention that the Sith are just an oppressed religious minority, and the Jedi are creepy pro-slavery janissaries.
Wouldn't that be great? If Roscoe P. Coltrane was really the hero, just trying to protect Hazard County from those two white-trash meth-head psycopaths who kept blowing shit up with their dynamite arrows?
It does explain a lot.
15 August 2007
On the run for a murder they did not commit, two small time bank robbers with nowhere else to hide, were mistaken for a priest and a nun. Every week, they found themselves in increasingly implausible situations, forced to help people with a wide variety of problems, while at the same time ducking the local sheriff, and an annoyingly suspicious but consistently clueless Mother Superior. Constantly forced to come to grips with their own selfishness and immorality, their situations almost always ended with an important lesson being learned, usually tied to a specific scripture in the bible.The illustrations are the best part.
Candi couldn't get past the strange feeling that they were being watched. Especially on Tuesdays. Around nine o'clock. Central time.
14 August 2007
China tells living Buddhas to obtain permission before they reincarnateIn spite of my limited knowledge of either Chinese or Gelug Buddhist law, I'm pretty sure this is outside the Chinese government's jurisdiction.
12 August 2007
11 August 2007
In his excellent (if a trifle dry) A History of News, one of Mitchell Stephens' insights to offer is that normal professional journalists (as opposed to that much rarer breed, investigative journalists) always “know” what the story they're going to write is going to be before they even talk to a single source. How do they do this? Stephens says that there are probably fewer than 200 stories that can be written, period, that anybody who reads or watches the news ever wants to hear. He calls these recurring news story outlines the ur-stories, meaning the primal or elemental news stories from which all later news stories are descended. So the reporter shows up at the scene of a news story with an outline of a story in their head, learned in journalism school, and all they need is three one-sentence quotes for color, and the correct spelling of each person's name. If it's an in-depth report, they go to their editor or publisher's rolodex and pull out the names of two “experts” who can be counted on to have opposing views on the subject and call each expert for another single-sentence quote. This is journalism as it is genuinely practiced.Obviously, this is a vigorous critique of journalism, and consistent with my own unhappy understanding of the field. He brings this up in service of a point of interesting to my weird and wonderful readers.
And it is my observation that there are only three ur-news stories that can possibly be written about a weird subculture or one of its members. I call them “Funny Zoo Animals,” “Threat or Menace,” and “Surprisingly Nice.” .... No, the best you can ever hope against hope for is, “Surprisingly Nice,” where the story starts off being how weird and silly (or weird and menacing) you and your subculture seem to be, still reinforcing one of those two stereotypes, “but (person's name) turned out to be surprisingly nice.” This is the story that people try to get reporters to write when they talk to a reporter about some charity work that they've done, from Pagans or the KKK doing Adopt-a-Highway litter cleanup to biker gangs raising money for children's hospitals or veterans' hospitals. But reporters hate the “Surprisingly Nice” story because they take it for granted that they're being manipulated. They know that you're distorting how you really are in hopes of getting some favorable publicity ...
10 August 2007
09 August 2007
I've not read the final installment in the Harry Potter series, because I've ... well ... not been following the series.
I know, I know.
Back around the time the third book was coming out, I read the first one. It was charming enough, but good golly, when I was a kid and a teen I read a hundred books just like it.. I didn't see what the big deal was.
Then I saw the books get dauntingly long, and life is short. I know I'm a sucker for getting hooked on exactly this kind of thing; when folks around the office are brandishing some horrid new Stephen R. Donaldson series that will inevitably disappoint, and they want to share their misery, I wisely run and hide. So I feel that I've dodged a bullet.
But recent Pottermania has produced some of my favourite bloggers to say some very cool stuff.
Timothy Burke at Easily Distracted uses the success of Harry Potter as a demo of complex systems theory, saying some pretty interesting stuff about Harry Potter on the way.
Let’s take the example of the Harry Potter phenomenon. A lot of the writing I’ve seen in the press about this ever since the first book took off into the sales stratosphere wants to settle on a single overriding explanation. It’s the general quality of the books! It’s cunning marketing! It’s Rowling’s particular flavor of fantasy and school-days pastiche! It’s the triumph of geekery in mass culture! It’s a new generation of shared parent-child culture!
It seems silly to want to settle on any of those as a single or overriding explanation. A complex-systems story isn’t just “it’s all of those and more”, though. That would leave a complex-system story as, “Nothing is explainable, because all events are irreducibly complex and all explanations equal”. In public life, that would leave us with little more to say about any event besides “que sera, sera”.
A good complex-system story, it seems to me, is always a history. It’s a story about how many tributaries flow into a river. Once you’re at the river and you’re looking back at the terrain, then of course it seems inevitable that they would flow as they did. But if you start at the point when one glacier started to melt ...
I had predicted, entirely on the basis of what I see in the movies, that Dumbledore would return in the last book, as Dumbledore the White, which I gather didn't happen. Meanwhile Pagan blogger Jason Pitzl-Waters at The Wild Hunt does a little crowing about having correctly predicted the Christian themes in the final installment.
Perhaps the confusion for so long is that people focused so hard on the witches and wizards in the book that everyone assumed it was downright Pagan in orientation. Some have even themed Pagan money-making enterprises around that conceit. Or it could be that the confusion was caused by Rowling's attempts to (perhaps clumsily) insert Christian themes in a way that wouldn't “give away” the climax of the story.Of course, this doesn't change that some humourless Christians have taken a strong dislike to Mr Potter's adventures, as David Neiwert at Orcinus observes, and his blogging collaborator Sara R offers an explanation why.
“Wizards have godfathers, celebrate Christmas, name hospitals after saints and put quotes from the Bible on their grave stones, but they don't have churches, vicars or Christenings and their weddings and funerals are secular affairs.”
Harry Potter, like Dungeons & Dragons (disclaimer: Mr. R worked on several D&D games as an employee of the game's original publisher), Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Sabrina, Magic: The Gathering, Kiki's Delivery Service (which also got its share of this) or Pokemon pushes some extra buttons that can't be rationalized by a mere desire to avoid all things secular. So, what's that about?
The common thread that runs through all of these is magic. And that, I think, is the real burr that gets under fundamentalist saddles. In fundieland, magic is the most frightening and legitimate of all the competing myth systems—the Devil's own preferred alternative to prayer and submission. Other belief systems (Buddhism, Hinduism, the Greek myths) are viewed as sad and rather pathetically delusional; but anything that smacks of magic is feared as actively Satanic.
Why is magic such a hot button? The reasons go to the heart of fundamentalist theology. At their core, fundamentalists believe that humans are wretched creatures who aren't really even human unless touched by God's grace.
Stories about magic openly defy this whole belief system. Magic-using characters like Harry usurp the supernatural power and prerogatives of God—a sufficient heresy in its own right. But it's worse than that: they're also exercising their own internal authority, and acting out of their own agency. And that's the last thing fundamentalists want their children—or anyone else—learning how to do.
And last, Lance Mannion reads Orcinus and figures that Sara R is probably right about why some folks hate Mr Potter's bildungsroman ... which he calls a very odd sort of misjudgment on their part.
If these Christians actually read the books they might learn something that would make them hate Harry Potter even more.
When all is said and done, Rowling makes one very key point about magic.
It's not important.
Harry does not succeed because he is a great wizard. He is, as it happens, not particularly adept at being a wizard.
Magic isn't what saves the day. To say it does is like saying that the hero's gun saves the day in a Western.
Magic is just the technology of the wizarding world and Rowling makes it clear that putting one's faith in magic is a sign of stupidity (the folks at the Ministry) or inhumanity (Voldemort and his followers). To trust in a tool or a technology is to give up thinking for one's self or to give up one's soul and make a tool of one's self.
To make a belief system out of trusting in tools over people is an insanity.
It isn't hard to make the leap from that to the conclusion that Rowling isn't fond of any belief system that encourages people to put their trust not in their own selves but in the authority of the belief system and its ruling elders.
Dumbledore, the greatest wizard ever, performs very little magic over the course of the first six books, and he teaches Harry very few tricks.
His main, and almost his only lesson, for Harry?
Think, Harry! Think!
That has me wondering if I shouldn't read them after all. But Andrew Rilstone has a much less complimentary view that deters me.
I remember the first time I read Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. I was on a train to Reading. It passed the time. I enjoyed the silly word play (Diagon Alley, spellotape, the Mirror of Erised). I liked the dotty details about the magical curriculum and the inventive descriptions of the actual lessons. I thought that Quidditch was an impressively bonkers idea. I thought that Draco Malfoy was an eminently dislikeable villain, and that Prof. Dumbledore—much zanier in the early books—was a splendid comic creation. (“What happened down in the dungeons is a complete secret. So naturally, the whole school knows.”) I liked the idea of a world where the oil paintings talk back at you, where the chocolate frogs hop away before you can eat them, and where trains leave from non-existent stations.
I thought that Rowling had cleverly dusted off the old and slightly reactionary genre of the school story and given us permission to enjoy it again.
All this is an awful lot of fun. The problem sets in around volume 4, when Rowling ceases to treat Hogwarts as a literary device and starts treating it as if it was a real educational establishment. The whimsical “Billy Bunter with a magic wand” adventures become subordinate to a painfully derivative fantasy quest story in which Harry is the Chosen One who can defeat the Dark Lord. This creates massive inconsistencies in tone.
And he doesn't like Ms Rowling's prose, not one little bit.
That's not even starting on Megan McArdle's objections to the economics of the Potter universe in the pages of the UK Guardian ...
08 August 2007
- The Empire State Building is the tallest building in the world
- Muhammad Ali is the Heavyweight Champion of the world
- Elvis has had more #1 hit singles than any other recording artist
- William Shawn is the editor of The New Yorker
- Henry Aaron holds the all-time record for lifetime home runs
Among many other things, this demonstrates that
- Writing science fiction that is anything like writing about the actual future is pretty much impossible
- We already live in the science fiction future
07 August 2007
Victoria Brescoll, a post-doctoral scholar at Yale University ... conducted three tests in which men and women recruited randomly watched videos of a job interview and were asked to rate the applicant's status and assign them a salary.Am I participating in sexism in saying that this makes me angry?
In the first, the scripts were identical except where the candidate described feeling either angry or sad about losing an account due to a colleague's late arrival at a meeting.
Participants conferred the most status on the man who said he was angry, the second most on the woman who said she was sad, slightly less on the man who said he was sad, and least of all by a sizable margin on the woman who said she was angry.
06 August 2007
A guy calls up The New York Times and says “My toaster’s talking to me,” The New York Times hangs up on him. And then he calls us up and says, “My toaster’s talking.” We say, “OK. Put the toaster on. We want to talk to him.”My favourite Weekly World News story was during the the '92 presidential campign. A space alien shown photographed with Bush earlier that year by the intrepid folks at the News had switched sides and endorsed Ross Perot. A wag in the White House press corps produced the pictures of the alien with Perot and asked the President about this development, and Bush deadpanned, “This is not fair! ... I told him, I said, ‘If I'm going to meet with you, never discuss it.’ I thought he was for me all along and there he is” with Perot.
The quote from Bush was carried by the AP wire ... and, of course, in the Weekly World News, who must have felt embarrassed to have been scooped by the dailies, for once.
05 August 2007
Yeah. Rollins doesn't blink.
Oh, and Mr Manson also talks about being interviewed by Michael Moore for Bowling for Columbine. If you haven't seen it, YouTube of course has the clip, and it's worth your time to see Mr Manson give the right answer to Moore's question, “If you were to talk directly to the kids at Columbine, or the people in that community, what would you say to them if they were here right now?”
04 August 2007
03 August 2007
02 August 2007
This picture of the screenwriter and her family attending the premiere really reassures me, though, for reasons I don't think I could explain.
Mr Gaiman's assurances are important to me, and he observes that movie studios could be smarter about how important this stuff is to the success of their comics adaptations. In particular, he talks about how Comicon can be an acid test of fan reactions.
The time that I saw it backfire worst was when I was on a Vertigo panel and [Vertigo editor] Karen Berger announced to a hall of 4,000 people, “The biggest news item I've got is that Warner Bros. is going to make a John Constantine movie!” And the whole hall erupted in cheering. And then she said, “And he's going to be played by Keanu Reeves!” And the whole hall went, “Oh ....” And that was it. It ended at that moment for that film, and honestly, if anyone from Warner Bros. had been in the hall, they should've gotten on the phone to say, “The Keanu Reeves thing is not going to work. Can we give him money to go away?” But nobody did, and the fans had washed their hands of Constantine before it came out because they knew it wasn't the thing they wanted to see. Generally speaking with comics, the closer the movie is to the source material in terms of look and feel, the better it works. And the more studios assume that you can put Batman in a pink costume and nobody will notice, the more everybody notices. They never quite figure that one out.Wil Wheaton continues the theme.
The article mentioned something about a movie called Watchmen, which was about “a slain superhero.”Actually, that's not bad enough. It's like calling Citizen Kane a movie about a reporter working on a story.
Oh for fuck's sake. Why not just call Star Wars a movie about “a captured princess”?
If Hollywood really wants to do this right, and really doesn’t want to fuck it up, my advice is to listen to the focus group at Comic-Con. I mean, really listen, because if Hollywood fucks up Watchmen, there’s going to be a nerd riot so terrifying, it will be like a thousand studio executives cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.And as Scott Kurtz observes, Hollywood has faced this peril before.
01 August 2007
The folks he interviews say they have never even considered the question, and even when asked, they can't come up with an answer.
Amazing and maddening.