30 September 2004


Apparently we lost him last week, but I just found out.

Russ Meyer

greatest exploitation director of all time

One must start with his notorious obsession. As a friend said to me when first initiated into the mystery of his work, “I just realized — this film was made before silicone. How are these women possible?” Indeed: he delighted in actresses not so much talented or sexy as improbable.

But having got that out of the way, there are his films. The distinctive campy sensibility. A movie so totally satisfying it karate-chops the competition! The memorable wacky dialogue. Oh, you're cute: like a velvet glove cast in iron! The uncannily perfect composition of shot after shot. The sheer joy in filmmaking that shows in every frame of his work.

It seems like everyone cool loves his work. John Waters said of Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!:

Beyond a doubt, the best movie ever made. It is possibly better than any film that will be made in the future.

Sometime collaborator Roger Ebert tries to do him justice.

At the request of my mother (!) below, I offer two recommendations for those of you who want to take your first plunge into Meyer's ouvre.

In deference to John Waters, I point first to Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! as the purest example of Meyer's vision. Three go-go dancers out racing their cars in the desert learn about a half-mad old geezer's legenday stash of money, and try to steal it. Hilarity ensues, including what Roger Ebert describes as “the most bizarre meal I have ever seen on film, with the single exception of The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover.”; I should warn you that the picture starts out slow, but I assure you that it soon accelarates like a thrill-crazed she-devil behind the wheel of a souped-up sportscar.

Then, speaking of Ebert, I offer Meyer's other masterpiece, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. If Pussycat is wholly novel, yet strangely resonant, Dolls is the inverse, a pastiche so richly familiar that it creates something unique. The Village Voice tells us “it's fabulous, teddy bear — a psychedelic wow that serves up the free love, plunging necklines, androgynous boys, and lusty lezzies of the [early ’70s] era with a narcotized abandon,” but that leaves out the picture's timeless cinematic loopiness. Oh, and Ebert wrote the screenplay. Dig it, baby.

29 September 2004

More torture

I know, I'm a broken record on this. But this is, you know, evil.

It looks like the US government may take another step in the construction of a gulag archipelago.

From Katherine at Obsidian Wings:

In Section 3032 and 3033 of H.R. 10, the “9/11 Recommendations Implementation Act of 2004,” introduced by House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL). The provision would require the Secretary of Homeland Security to issue new regulations to exclude from the protection of the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Forms of Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, any suspected terrorist — thereby allowing them to be deported or transferred to a country that may engage in torture. The provision would put the burden of proof on the person being deported or rendered to establish “by clear and convincing evidence that he or she would be tortured,” would bar the courts from having jurisdiction to review the Secretary's regulations, and would free the Secretary to deport or remove terrorist suspects to any country in the world at will — even countries other than the person's home country or the country in which they were born. The provision would also apply retroactively.

Go read the whole horrible thing.

Then read Michael at Discourse.net reminding us that this is one among many examples of our government's pro-torture policy.

Anyone who votes for people capable of supporting these policies has blood on their hands.

Please circulate the Obsidian Wings article. The quote about the 9/11 Recommendations Implementation Act is from a press release by Representative Edward Markey, (D-Mass), who is introducing a bill to amend the Act to strike this evil provision. This is a case where people can really make a difference by writing to their representatives and urging them to support Markey's bill.

Here's what I wrote to Nancy Pelosi, my congresshuman:

I have just learned about the "extraordinary rendition" provision in Section 3032 and 3033 of HR 10, the 9/11 Recommendations Implementation Act of 2004. It permits the US to ship out suspected terrorists to other nations known to use torture in interrogations.

Torture. As in, “evil.”

I find it deeply troubling that the United States would even be discussing legislation which enables torture. Doubly so in a bill that does not afford the protections of due process of law we hold to be essential in circumstances which much less severe stakes.

I understand that Representative Edward Markey of Massachucetts is introducing a bill to strike this provision from HR 10. Looking at his web page, I see that you and he are closely allied. I urge you to also join with him on this issue.

So much of government is a matter of dry and debatable policy, conflicting interests with equally reasonable claims, partisanship, and hairsplitting over differing values. This is a time when clear moral principle is at stake. I hope that you will take this opportunity to stand up for what is right.

Go on, write one yourself. You'll feel better.

Ali G

If you've ever seen Da Ali G Show, you've wondered how this fake rap star manages to get interviews with major public figures, who answer his bizarre questions with a straight face. How does he do it?

We truly left there thinking he was the stupidest person ever

Monkeyboy's Linkblog points us to a Slate article that tries to figure it out. Fascinating.

28 September 2004


I've known about James Lileks' website for a while: it's full of all kinds of American cultural ephemera and twisty little thoughts and so forth (as well as very disconcerting politics). Now I'm seriously hooked, thanks to a rumination about musical scores I found through Amygdala.

They were records I never saw at Ben Franklin or the drug store; they were odd, peculiar, off-brand, and they all had a hole punched in the upper left-hand corner. You inferred quickly that this was a badge of failure, of shame. That Herb Alpert cover with the girl covered in whipped cream? You'd never find that on in this bin. More likely you'd find Artie Johnson covered in whipped cream, some ha-ha parody they unloaded on the chains for pennies. Woolworth sold the cut-outs for 88 cents.

I found this one.

I bought it; what 12 year old boy wouldn't? Nazis and cable cars and castles blowing up — can't miss. I memorized the score before I ever saw the movie, and when I finally saw the film I was annoyed that they talked over the music, put explosions over the music, added sound effects. The score was the movie for me.

Plus, there's a lot about the score for the Star Trek episode “The Doomsday Machine,” and what could be better than that?

27 September 2004

Cool tools

Kevin Kelly is one of those sorta-ex-hippie guys who was involved in the Whole Earth Review and went on to do a host of interesting things, most famously including founding Wired magazine. He has an interesting personal website, natch, and I call it to your attention because of the Cool Tools section of his site, rich with unsolicited product endorsements from him and other folks for all different kinds of things. For some odd astrological reason, I have been drawn to Cool Tools by a couple of different people recently.

The nomadics section reminded me of a bloke I spent an odd evening with a few weeks ago who described how he lives the life of a Blank from an episode of Max Headroom: living out of a panel truck without a bank account, pirating electricity from a streetlamp. There's a listing in that section for a catalogue of industrial vehicular supplies. The author of that listing describes this charmingly nutty application:

My Jeep is camouflaged to look like a commercial fleet vehicle. I made up a fake company name, appropriated a 1950s-era logo that once belonged to a nuclear energy mutual fund, painted safety stripes on the back, and plastered a fake vehicle number all over the place. I also added flashing yellow lights in the rear window ...

Seems he can often drive into restricted access roads and park in odd places that way. I'm guessing he's not the sort of bloke who worries whether his date on Saturday night is going to be impressed with his ride.

26 September 2004

G & S

Plate of shrimp! I was just talking to someone the other day about this very subject: Gilbert and Sullivan's immense contribution to society in writing “I am the Very Model of a Modern Major General,” which makes possible countless silly songs using awkward words.

Case in point: “I am the Very Model of a Modern Esotericist.” My readers who will enjoy that one know who they are.

And y'all are geeks. Let's face it, a love for Gilbert and Sullivan is kinda geeky. The greatest of all “Modern Major General” variations is, of course, Tom Lehrer's “The Elements,” a song based on the periodic table of the elements.

There's antimony, arsenic, aluminum, selenium,
And hydrogen and oxygen and nitrogen and rhenium

(You ought to check our this very nifty Flash animation of the song I found, by the way.)

Recall that I pointed out some time ago that G&S also turn up in the West Wing drinking game. For all the banter in the halls of Sorkin's White House about basketball, any romanticized screwball drama about the White House staff has to be classified as a show by and for geeks.

Furthermore, to my mind, the only redeeming scene in Star Trek: Insurrection is the silly bit at the beginning where Data has gone a bit berserk and they're trying to recapture him. Worf and Picard are in one shuttlecraft, Data's in another, and they're having a dogfight. (If you haven't seen the film, you're going to have to believe me that this stuff is really in the picture: I cut-and-pasted it from a shooting script I found on the web.)

PICARD: He can fly a ship, he anticipates tactical strategies, his brain is obviously functioning ... We've seen how he responds to threats. I wonder how he'd respond to ...

Another shot connects

Do you know Gilbert and Sullivan?

WORF: No, sir. I haven't had a chance to meet all the new crew members since I've been back.

PICARD: They're composers, Worf, from the nineteenth century. Data was rehearsing a part in H.M.S. Pinafore before he left.
(singing to com)
 “A British tar is a soaring soul,
   As free as a mountain bird,
   His energetic fist should be ready to resist
   A dictatorial word.”

Picard looks at Worf, nods. Join me! Worf gives him an exasperated look ... Picard begins to enter commands into the computer as he continues to sing ...

 “His nose should pant and his lip should curl,
   His cheeks should flame and his brow should furl.”

Data reacts. From somewhere inside his damaged brain, he recalls this song. He starts to sing to himself ...

 “His bosom should heave and his heart should glow,
      And his fist be ready for a knock-down blow.”

The lyrics are scrolling on a monitor now, a bouncing ball making it easier for Worf to follow.

PICARD: (To Worf) Sing!

 “His nose should pant and his lip should curl,
   His cheeks should flame and his brow should furl.”

And Data sings in unison —

 “His bosom should heave and his heart should glow
   And his fist be ready for a knock-down blow.”

Picard catches his breath, turns off the com panel.

PICARD: He's stopped firing.

Suddenly from the speaker —

 “His eyes should flash with an inborn fire,
    His brow should scorn be wrung;
    He never should bow down to a domineering frown,
    Or the tang of a tyrant tongue ... ”

PICARD: (smiles, triumphant) Prepare the docking clamps.

So there you have it. Anything the crew of the Enterprise would have at the tips of their tongues has to be pretty geeky.

24 September 2004


Another site with charming pointless little abstract Flash animations!

22 September 2004

Occult investigator

There's a fella named Tim Boucher who calls himself an "occult investigator;" he maintains a pretty elaborate website. It's fun, though it's hard to tell when or whether his tongue is in his cheek.
Since I became an occult investigator, my life has turned into one non-stop party!
The site includes a blog which he updates astonishingly fequently, an amusing Index of Investigations, and a ton of other stuff.

21 September 2004

Married a Barbie

Submitted without comment: some guy married a Barbie doll, really he did.


These days, every major city in the US has a free weekly "alternative" tabloid-format newspaper which supports itself with advertising revenue from entertainment venues and the city's more rock 'n' roll retailers. These papers often play host to some really interesting writing, including cultural commentary, personal essays, and even investigative journalism.

You're saying "Yeah, yeah, Jonathan, I already knew that," aren't you?

But did you know that someone is maintaining a website compiling some of the best writing from all of those weeklies? Very cool.

20 September 2004


Again, for those of you having trouble sorting through the whole story of Bush's National Guard service and lack thereof:

A very readable overview on Salon

Longer overviews from Orcinus from February and updated in June

Paul Lusiak's detailed analysis from the AWOL project, plus DeLong's summary of Lusiak's work


So I saw this silly AP wire story on Salon.
Edward Furlong's ploy to free some lobsters from their tank landed the actor in jail.
The animal-rights supporter and vegetarian was arrested after he and some friends removed lobsters from a tank at a Meijer grocery store. Furlong argued with store managers, who then called police, according to his arrest citation.

Furlong was unsteady on his feet, his speech was slurred and his breath smelled of alcohol, the citation said.

For what it's worth, I once had an aggressively vegetarian sweetheart whom I had to dissuade from doing the same thing while she was completely sober. "What, are they going to crawl to the Maine coast?" I asked, imagining the havoc that the wily crustaceans would create scampering down the supermarket aisles.

"They would be free!" she would insist. It was hard to argue. I was very young, and she had freckles.

19 September 2004

Today's quote

Big Media Matt is reading Walter Russell Mead's Power, Terror, Peace, and War: America's Grand Strategy in a World at Risk, "in an effort to grapple with some points made by a relatively serious apologist for Bushism."
Right now I'm at page 91 of a 216 page book and I must say that the most persistent flaw is that Mead often doesn't seem to know what he's talking about.
That does seem like a flaw, yeah.

18 September 2004

Dewey defeats Truman

Aha. Atrios points us at The Left Coaster who has discovered that Gallup's polls are nonsense.
Gallup ... assumes that this November 40% of those turning out to vote will be Republicans, and only 33% will be Democrat.
Does this represent the likely turnout? John Zogby says no.
If we look at the three last Presidential elections, the spread was 34% Democrats, 34% Republicans and 33% Independents (in 1992 with Ross Perot in the race); 39% Democrats, 34% Republicans, and 27% Independents in 1996; and 39% Democrats, 35% Republicans and 26% Independents in 2000.
You want to bet that Democrat turnout will be a bit better than 2000? I'll be happy to take your money if you think it won't.

17 September 2004

Avast ye!

Don't ye be fergettin, ye swabs! Sunday be International Talk Like a Pirate Day!

There be plenty of pirate lexicons on the briny web to help ye, and pirate booty out there, so no excuses, ye scurvy dogs!


Life imitates art

Waterbones points us at a neat little article about the history of the queen in chess. I'd like to add a little observation for fans of Katherine Neville's novel The Eight.
She was asked by a museum curator if she had seen the Gardner's "chess queen." She had not, and the curator took her to see it, in a glass case on the third floor. The 3 1/4-inch ivory piece, carved in Scandinavia in the 14th century, depicts a nursing madonna. Yalom was fascinated. Could it be a chess piece? If so, what would the other pieces look like?

Her quest began ...

Have you ever heard of the Montglane Service?
She met Irvin Yalom, now a prominent psychiatrist and novelist. They were married soon after ...
Irvin Yalom, or Ladislaw Nim?

Don't know what I'm talking about? You need to read The Eight!

16 September 2004

A lie that reveals the truth?

Only for folks who have been fascinated by the Bush Guard Duty "CYA" memos --- which it seems almost certainly really are forgeries --- the Bolo Boffin takes us down the rabbit hole with the implications of a Dallas News article.
The memos are forged, but they're telling the truth.
This is a bluff of epic proportions. The forger wanted people talking about the Bush Guard record, s/he had a lot of information about Bush, and s/he knew about the CYA file. There couldn't be too many people who knew that --- Killian's widow and son didn't even know that.

I'm not convinced that the forger gave a damn about being discovered, either. Whether the memos were written on Word, or the forger located a Selectric Executive D to do it right seems to be irrelevant. Being discovered would just be more publicity about the contents. But if enough of the right people thought the gig was up and started talking about what they knew, the bluff would have worked.

And it did. Hodges may be backpedalling for all he's worth, but he's confirmed the details of the memos' content.

Mind: boggled.

The best page in the universe?

I don't think it is, but it is an entertaining throwback to old school pre-blog web pages full of random rants on random subjects, many of them deliciously geeky: The Best Page in the Universe
This page is about me and why everything I like is great. If you disagree with anything you find on this page, you are wrong.
Completely unlike this blog, of course.

15 September 2004

The coolest website in the world

I am recently reminded of eXile, the strange and wonderful alternative weekly from Moscow, published in English.

If you're like me, shortly after the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Empire disintegrated, you heard tales of an influx of mad young Americans to places like Prague and Budapest and Moscow, hoping to live history as it happens. "Prague of the '90s will be the Paris of the '20s of the '90s," I used to say. There were moments when I was tempted to go, but things were good for me in San Francisco and I worried that the reality would not match my romantic fantasy.

I eXile is to be believed, the cultural weirdness is even cooler than I imagined then.

14 September 2004


If you do not know who Warren Ellis is, do not read this article.


Wondering what the deal is with the Bush National Guard service memo that may be a forgery? Orcinus has the dope in detail.

In brief: CBS ran a story about Bush neglecting his National Guard service, and cited a memo entitled "CYA." Right-wing bloggers have questioned the memo's authenticity (often on shaky grounds) and this has bubbled into the mainstream media. But this obscures the larger, well-understood issues about Bush's guard service, which strongly suggest that he did not complete his service and definitely demonstrate that Bush has been deceitful and evasivw.

13 September 2004


Now that the smoke has quite cleared, I see that Waterbones, with her ever-watchful eye for well-written racy blogs, has found a blog providing a working girl's perspective on the Republican National Convention.

For my money, though, the best blogger working the RNC beat has to be Michael Bérubé. His posts from the convention are long and brilliant:

It turns out that the power of Republican rhetoric is too much for poor Mr. Bérubé.

Folks, I'll level with you on the level — I did not know any of this. I did not know that Kerry said he would have voted before against the $87 billion after he did not vote for it. I did not know that President Bush stayed with those 9/11 construction workers “much longer than was planned.” Thanks to the liberal media and the hyper-liberal campus by which I am surrounded, I have been contributing to the left-wing blogosphere echo-chamber without once questioning my assumptions about the Republican party. But today's GOP really is a remarkable bunch. “The best speech I've seen at a convention,” said William Kristol of Rudy Guiliani's performance. “He knew what he wanted to say. The Wednesday and the Thursday and the Friday, and the construction worker hugging Bush, and all the other things he said,” said Fred Barnes. How can you argue against someone who knew what he wanted to say? You can't, is the answer, and that is why, after only one evening of this convention, I'm willing to bet that this land is Bush land, where people know that they say what they say in the way that they just said it.
It was about a President who knows how to terminate terrorism. That's right, you wanted to know if Arnold would say "terminate," and you got your answer &mdahs; we will terminate terrorism. Terrorism will come at us in a big truck carrying crude oil or liquid nitrogen or something, and we'll crush it in a drill press or maybe shoot it and shatter it into a million pieces, but then the terrorists' metal forearm will survive and provide scientists with the basis for creating a whole new kind of artificial intelligence, or the liquid-metal terrorist will re-form and we'll have to shoot it with one of those huge exploding bullets and make it fall backwards into a vat of molten steel, and then we'll have to send ourselves back into the past (that is, the present) to protect ourselves from the terrorists who want to start a global thermonuclear war, but then it'll turn out that the war happens anyway, which is kind of complicated, because we thought we'd avoided it when we shot the liquid-metal terrorist with the huge exploding bullet and he fell . . . never mind, that's not the point, the point is that leadership is all about "making decisions you think are right, and then standing behind those decisions." Even when it looks like your decision to invade Iraq was based on the advice of a notorious kleptomaniac who was possibly serving as a double agent for Iranian mullahs, you stand behind your decision, because leadership is all about making decisions you think are right and then standing behind them. Um, I said that already. But that's all right, because it makes it even more true!! And I stand firm in repeating what I said about leadership!!
I've spent my adult life as a member of the liberal cultural elite, living in college towns and teaching literature. I thought I was pretty sharp, with my "postmodern" this and my “cultural studies” that. But do you have any idea how the real elite in this country live? Holy mother of God in a public creche, folks, you can't begin to imagine the perks around here. To hell with the cultural elite — they couldn't see Dick Cheney's tax bracket if the entire English department at Harvard stood on each other's shoulders. The political elite is where it's at, people, the economic elite. Now there's an elite. And let me tell you, it is mighty, mighty fine up here. No more Genny Cream Ale in cans for me — there's nothing in this suite but Macallan and Stoli. And the servants couldn't be nicer. Everyone here treats them with honest-to-God conservative compassion, and they seem to be just fine with that.

They're long and fun; read ’em all.

12 September 2004

On the road again

Do not adjust your browser. I will be on the road for the next couple of weeks, and may post only erratically as a result.


From An Open Letter to Whole Foods Supermarkets, from the wise and witty folks at McSweeney's:
I'm moving on. There's a new man in my life, Whole Foods. You might know him; his name is Joe, and he's big in the trade industry. He and I will line my cupboard with a love stronger than your chelated nondairy nonanimal protein lozenges, deeper than the roast of your fair-trade mountain-grown shade-grown Ethiopian Yergacheffe, and bulkier than all of the bulgur wheat and buckwheat groats in your bulk-foods aisle.
Ah, yes: Joe, pilot of the Fearless Flyer.

11 September 2004

Three years later

By way of Xnoubis, I have Juan Cole's summary of 9/11's consequences thus far.
In order to evaluate the aftermath of September 11, we first must understand that event. What did al-Qaeda intend to achieve?
Bin Laden hoped the US would timidly withdraw from the Middle East. But he appears to have been aware that an aggressive US response to 9/11 was entirely possible. In that case, he had a Plan B: al-Qaeda hoped to draw the US into a debilitating guerrilla war in Afghanistan and do to the US military what they had earlier done to the Soviets. Al-Zawahiri's recent message shows that he still has faith in that strategy.

The US cleverly outfoxed al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, using air power and local Afghan allies (the Northern Alliance) to destroy the Taliban without many American boots on the ground.

Ironically, however, the Bush administration then went on to invade Iraq for no good reason, where Americans faced the kind of wearing guerrilla war they had avoided in Afghanistan.

Al-Qaeda has succeeded in several of its main goals ...

It's a very clear, and depressing, summary.

Today's quote

Intelligence analysts need to have open minds, for the world is a really weird place.

Richard Clarke, as paraphrased by Brad DeLong

This from DeLong's notes from Clarke's recent talk in Berkeley.

10 September 2004

Conservatives for Kerry

When conservative columnists are writing things like Vote for a Man, Not a Puppet, you know there's hope.
People who think of themselves as conservatives will really display their stupidity, as I did in the last election, by voting for Bush. Bush is as far from being a conservative as you can get. Well, he fooled me once, but he won't fool me twice.
I will swallow a lot of petty policy differences with Kerry to get a man in the White House with brains enough not to blow up the world and us with it. Go to Kerry's Web site and read some of the magazine profiles on him. You'll find that there is a great deal more to Kerry than the GOP attack dogs would have you believe.

09 September 2004

Underground cinema

A Secret Correspondent of mine passed on this item which proves that sometimes, as Warren Ellis says, the world is better than advertised.
Members of the force's sports squad, responsible --- among other tasks --- for policing the 170 miles of tunnels, caves, galleries and catacombs that underlie large parts of Paris, stumbled on the complex while on a training exercise beneath the Palais de Chaillot, across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower.

After entering the network through a drain next to the Trocadero, the officers came across a tarpaulin marked: Building site, No access.

Behind that, a tunnel held a desk and a closed-circuit TV camera set to automatically record images of anyone passing. The mechanism also triggered a tape of dogs barking, "clearly designed to frighten people off," the spokesman said.

Further along, the tunnel opened into a vast 400 sq metre cave some 18m underground, "like an underground amphitheatre, with terraces cut into the rock and chairs".

There the police found a full-sized cinema screen, projection equipment, and tapes of a wide variety of films, including 1950s film noir classics and more recent thrillers.

Who says the French aren't cool?

More bad news

Amnesty International delivers a long article saying that the "War on Terror" has been bad for human rights in the Gulf and on the Arabian Penninsula.
Over the last decade the region as a whole witnessed noticeable growth in governmental and non-governmental human rights institutions coupled with increasing demands for greater respect of human rights. These achievements are increasingly in jeopardy in the context of the US-led "war on terror". Among activists in the Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula, the "war on terror" has been referred to as "the shirt of Uthman" --- a valid cause used to legitimise injustice. In the words of a Gulf human rights activist, "the war on terror is every despot’s dream come true."
The report makes recommendations.
  • Release anyone detained solely for their non-violent expression and exercise of their belief or ethnic origin;
  • End the legal limbo of all detainees, including those held in undisclosed locations and grant them full access to lawyers, doctors, families and immediate access to the International Committee of the Red Cross;
  • Ensure that all those held are charged and given fair trials or released;
  • Ensure that the detainees are treated humanely and not subjected to torture;
  • Investigate all allegations of torture and bring to justice anyone who is reasonably believed to be responsible;
  • Halt the forcible return of foreign nationals to countries where they would face serious human rights violations;
  • Ensure strict compliance with human rights standards in any security cooperation between states and in all security training programs;
  • Provide adequate support and assistance to families of detainees including the granting of legal aid;
  • Grant AI and other human rights organizations access to detainees and officials in Guantánamo Bay and in the Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula.
Golly. We can't have that.

08 September 2004

Good questions

Michael Bérubé asks some good questions.
Has there ever been a gay Socrates? Has there ever been a gay Shakespeare? Has there ever been a gay Proust?

Does the Pope wear a dress?


07 September 2004


The First Thousand

Honored sons and daughters of America

Bad news today. I was expecting this to take a bit longer.

U.S. military deaths in the Iraq campaign passed the 1,000 milestone Tuesday, with more than 800 of them during the stubborn insurgency that flared after the Americans brought down Saddam Hussein and President Bush declared major combat over.

Associated Press, 7 September 2004

I hope that all Americans will honor their sacrifice. I hope that all of their souls are at peace. I hope that no more blood will be spilled. I hope that I am wrong, and their deaths have helped secure liberty for us and the people of Iraq.

Commenting to the LiveJournal syndicated version of my blog, Yezida gently takes issue:

I can honor their lives and deaths, yet I'm uncertain of the word sacrifice in this context. It doesn't seem like sacrifice to me, it just seems like a bloody shame. And still we struggle on, trying to make sense, trying to make peace, trying to “live as though we were in the early days of a better nation.”

Some days this feels much harder than others.

The word “sacrifice” means that their deaths are sacred, and Yezida is a person who takes the sacred very seriously. Are the deaths of our soldiers sacred? Let me put on my pacifist hat for a moment, and ask in more uncomfortable terms. The central defining activity of soldiers is killing people. Are the deaths of our killers sacred?

We are indeed at a strange place in our nation's political rhetoric. I admit that part of why I make a point of so vigorously honoring the American dead in a war I so vigorously oppose is that hawks have cultivated a pernicious lie that doves and lefties dishonor our soldiers, veterans, and war dead. The need to pre-empt this lie is is why the Democrats' candidate for President is not only a Vietnam veteran but has emphasized it in his campaign. And it's part of why I beat this drum so hard.

Hawks talk about our soldiers “fighting and dying for our freedom.” I agree that American soldiers have bought my liberty with blood, and that this has often been the best available choice in a world of conflict. But I do not accept the implication that every drop of blood drawn or shed by our soldiers buys American liberty. Nor do I feel that to rue lives lost in war is to dishonor that loss.

If there is dishonor, it belongs not to our soldiers but to our government. Our soldiers' choice was to be willing to walk through the perilous gates of war, delivering themselves as the fragile instruments of our government for when they are needed to preserve our liberty. That is a sacred pact. Their loss in that pact is a sacrifice.

The conduct of war is that of a funeral;
when people are killed, it is a time of mourning.
This is why even victorious battle
should be observed without rejoicing.

Tao Teh Ching, XXXI

But Yezida is right, too. Our government's waste of that sacrifice is a “bloody shame.”

06 September 2004

Team America

You have likely seen ads for Team America, the forthcoming action-movie parody made by Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the South Park guys. There's a fascinating New York Times article about them making the film.
Mr. Parker and Mr. Stone got the idea for Team America while watching an obscure cable channel. The British 1970's puppet-action show about super-agents, The Thunderbirds, came on. (Universal just released a live-action, feature film version of the series, which bombed.) They liked the look of the show, but thought it was too boring.

As a lark, they bought the DVD and dubbed three minutes of their own dialogue over the soundtrack, then showed it to the producer Scott Rudin. The project quickly got a green light at Paramount.
Mr. Parker and Mr. Stone approached every scene with a WWJBD ethos: What Would Jerry Bruckheimer Do?

The article inspires several thoughts.

First, I can't help feeling good about this next stage in their goofy-guys-made-good story. South Park happened because they made tapes for friends of The Spirit of Christmas --- a wicked and very funny little animated "Christmas special" in which Jesus and Santa Claus confront one another and the kids learn ... well, nothing really. The tape got copied, and copied again, and the next thing you know, Comedy Central was paying them to make more. They're the friend you have who is so funny and creative but not well suited to the working world, given the opportunity to make people laugh and stick to what they do well. God bless 'em, there is a little justice in this world after all, and in their own goofy way, they have the good grace to appreciate their good fortune and to recognize that while they are good at what they do, it just isn't that important in the grand scheme of things.

I also feel a certain generational cultural ambivalence about them. On the one hand, they are masters of the kind of adolescent-yet-intelligent pop culture pastiche that is my X-ish language --- which, I proudly assert, Boomers just can't do the way we can --- and I love the stuff. It's easy to dismiss, as humor so often is, but it ain't as easy as it looks. On the other hand ...

It's hard not to wonder: are these guys just out to provoke? Or do they actually have something to say? Underneath all the kidding around, it seems possible they're angry. But if so, at whom? "We don't know," Mr. Parker said, hanging his head as if embarrassed. "People who go will be really confused about whose side we're on. That's because we're really confused."

He added: "If you watch the first 40 minutes of the movie, you'd think Michael Moore wrote it and Rob Reiner directed it. If you watch the last 40 minutes you'd think we were the biggest right-wingers in the world."

Mr. Stone said: "Basically, we're working it out in this movie."

I don't want to say that everyone ought to be as political as I am. I certainly don't want to say that humorists should be. As Matt and Trey rightly observe in the course of the article, most would-be political artists only embarass themselves. Yet I cannot help recognizing in them not only the circumspection of apolitical artists, but them again reflecting an example of the generational voice of bourgois white folks in their 30s.

05 September 2004

Real life John Woo

I am told that these pictures are from a news site, but I have no way of knowing if it's true.

Chocolate ration

MKB points us to a short piece at The Memory Hole about the redactions in the recent ACLU filing against the Patriot Act. You know, the bits of the public version that are blacked out for national security.

Or, as it turns out, because they're just embarassing to the government. Memory Hole has the proof --- they redacted something that was already in the public domain.

04 September 2004


Thanks to Poppy Z. Brite, author of unappetizing fiction, I offer you a screed about brunch from One Toque Over The Line.
My personal way to deal with this is to provide eggs dishes that extend a middle finger to traditional scrunch offerings. Eggs Benedict? No. Eggs Allistair Crowley (with blood sausage no less). Eggs Richey Rich (with foie gras, red wine sauce and a hefty price tag. If you're gonna dictate my serving brunch, I'm going to drain your wallet) Eggs Florentine? Please. That's far too pleasant sounding for Sunday morning. How about Eggs Burning in Hell (Soft boiled eggs, quickly deep fried and served with a blistering pepper sauce)
The Angry Chef, is, indeed, angry.

03 September 2004

Geeky AND political ...

... just like my blog.

I cribbed this picture from Collision Detection.

HTML tag humor is, of course, nothing new. There's the t-shirt of course. (Be sure to look at the back, if you haven't seen that one before.)

And I've heard tell of flirty email from a geeky young lady I'll call "Mag" signed <HEART>Mag</HEART>

Update: You can get it as a t-shirt!

My name is Ish

Timothy Burke has been reflecting on what it would be like to enjoy the services of a kind of Magic Politics Fairy who grants wishes. His first wish is my favorite.
I wish that all the disgruntled leftists who want a muscular and purified third political party that was authentically radical, progressive or left could not only have their wish but have still more. I wish that that the Democratic Party would agree to provisionally step aside on behalf of this new party for one major campaign season, so that the new True Left Party could run its candidates for President and all Congressional seats against Republicans. I wish furthermore in this miraculous political season that this same party could have total authority over all news broadcasts and major cultural outlets for a period of one year preceding the election. Just to eliminate the usual carping about the mass media. Just so we could see what would happen, just so the ensuing political disaster might actually buy us some peace from the pseudo-Naderite fringes.
Think about it. Really think about it.

02 September 2004


So last night I watched, on the web, Zell Miller's speech at the RNC. Lefty Calpundit reports that the blogosphere's reaction has been energetic, and the evidently right-leaning Daily Thoughts has much more.

An army of liberators, not occupiers.
Never in the history of the world has any soldier sacrificed more for the freedom and liberty of total strangers than the American soldier. And, our soldiers don't just give freedom abroad, they preserve it for us here at home.

For it has been said so truthfully that it is the soldier, not the reporter, who has given us the freedom of the press.

It is the soldier, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech. It is the soldier, not the agitator, who has given us the freedom to protest.

It is the soldier who salutes the flag, serves beneath the flag, whose coffin is draped by the flag who gives that protester the freedom to abuse and burn that flag.

There is a name for a political philosophy that locates the core of civic virtue in the military. William Saletan reminds us that it isn't "democracy." I'll leave identifying what it is as an exercise for the reader.

Update: Brad DeLong reports that the Republican party has noticed that people have noticed that Zell was, well, creepy.

Just a little higher, Senator Miller.


For those of you concerned, in this Olympic season, about the use of performance-enhancing drugs among atheletes, I say, think of the other professions where this is a plague. Consider this confession: The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Writer, in which “an author laments grammar-hormone juicing but insists her prose was unaffected.”

It was several years ago now that someone approached me in the Commodity Aesthetics section in the basement of City Lights bookstore and told me about HGH, human grammar hormone, the substance first isolated by Noam Chomsky in 1956 but not synthesized until 1994.

What a lot of you may not know is that it was Chomsky's pursuit of an ideal subject, in terms of syntactical elaboration, that drove Salinger into hiding; it's just a hypothesis that Salinger was exceptionally high in naturally occurring HGH since they never got to stick a needle in him and find out if there was a scientific basis for all those scenic detours and narrative oxbows.

Want more? I have a cartoon for you.

01 September 2004

What is truth?

Being in NYC for the RNC has driven Big Media Matt to an epistemological crisis.
You talk with rightwingers and you see that you basically share the same vague normative goals, but disagree about what's happening in the universe. Over and over again 'lo these past few days I've heard some conservative or another, either in conversation or else from a podium somewhere, complain that liberal bias in the media has gotten so bad that they don't even follow the news anymore. They know that George W. Bush is a good guy, so all this bad stuff that's being reported about him just goes to show what a bunch of lying cretins these reporters are.
I know the feeling.