30 November 2004


Jesse at Pandagon makes a connection that I should have noticed before.
I read a good four to five pieces each week declaring that academia is a cesspool of fermenting liberalism, from which spouts the bitter wine of postmodernist humanism. However, they're all from conservatives who, themselves, have expressed no desire to work in academia. If the situation were different, they would still be the $100,000 a year op-ed columnist who gets to be on MSNBC and CNN five times a month and only has to copy think-tank studies from the Heritage Foundation and call it a day. Or, you know, they simply cut out the middleman and work for the think tank itself.
Note to my regular readers: "four to five pieces each week"? Obviously my punditry addiction is not really as bad as I thought, in comparison.

And if you're interested in a long, thoughtful essay following up this point, check out what Juan Cole has to say.

Update: If you're interested in a very silly essay following up this point, check out what Bérubé has to say.

Ninja festivities

As part of our ongoing ninja coverage here at Miniver Cheevy, I inform you that this Sunday will be the second annual Day of the Ninja.

Forget "Talk Like a Pirate" Day. This will truly be our chance to show the world what ninja are made of.
Hmmnn. Ninjas and pirates are rivals? It may be news to this guy, but there seems to be general agreement that it is so. Given my strong pirate allegiance, this may have to be my last ninja post ...

29 November 2004

Bye, Colin

Juan Cole, as usual, knows what's what and offers his summation on Powell's resignation, which may be even worse news than I thought.
... insiders in Washington have told me enough stories about Powell victories behind the scenes that I am not sure the marginalization argument is decisive. Powell had an alliance with UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, and the two of them could sometimes derail the wilder plans of the Department of Defense. Blair, and probably Powell, convinced Bush to fight al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan before going on to an Iraq war. Imagine how dangerous the situation would be if the US were bogged down in Iraq as it is now, but Bin Laden's 40 training camps were still going full steam!
Unsurprisingly, he has nothing nice to say about Condi.

Why your kids need Batman

Indri tells me that a study covered in New Scientist reveals that Superman is a counterproductive role model.
Students who thought of Superman volunteered much less of their time than those who thought about other superheroes. Furthermore, Superman-primed subjects were significantly less likely to show up at a meeting for volunteers held three months after they were initially asked to participate.
Got that right. Teach your kids about Batman, who's just a very determined guy. My mon Bats, he don't shiv.

28 November 2004


Pharyngula is my new hero. His blog is available in both regular and pirate mode.

27 November 2004


At my mother's request, I offer y'all this list of things I want as Christmas gifts.

Friends and loved ones reading this, please don't feel obligated to run out and score me something; I try to live as much as possible in the world of gifts as targets of opportunity, rather than obligations. I'm willing to splurge on an expensive gift for a friend if I find something clever that I know that they wouldn't find or purchase for themselves. Hunting for something, anything, to give to someone in the absence of inspiration is a bit silly. If you feel the same, there's no dishonor if you just don't find something suitable and decide you won't give me a Christmas gift. I'll still love you.

That said, gratuitously cool little bookish or leatherish things are cool. Gratuitiously charming artefacts of manly grooming are cool. Certainly I always want more cufflinks. They are the perfect gift: delightful but unnecessary, they don't take up space, but I do use them all.

I don't need sweaters; I've got that one covered.

Of course anyone reading this blog who has never even met me will guess that I have an insatiable hunger for books, music, and movies. Weird new music I don't know anything about is fun.

I should say about that last link link that it leads to my Amazon wish list. I don't see any dishonor in buying DVDs from Amazon --- especially if you have five grand burning a hole in your pocket and think your buddy Jonathan needs the complete Criterion Collection gift set --- but if you can, you always want to support local retailers with your music and book dollars.


I've been cackling with glee over the trailer for National Treasure. The whole thing is stupid, of course, and I gather that the movie is a turkey, but as usual Bruckheimer is the best short filmmaker in the world. I really think that he produces these films in order to get a hundred million dollars to finance the making of the trailer. But what's not to like about a pop culture exploitation of the legend of the Templars begetting the Illuminati begetting the Masons begetting the American Revolution, and leaving their secret code on the Great Seal of the United States? And then stealing the Declaration of Independence?

The other thing that I love about it is that it reminds us that the National Archives in Washington DC is cool. I went there some years ago when I was visiting my folks, and it was as mighty as the Lincoln Memorial.

Of course, you get to see the Declaration of Independence, for which I have veneration beyond even the American norm. And the Constitution, ditto. And they had a display of the Magna Charta on loan from the Brits. (Slightly less impressive, as it turns out that they were smart enough to have King John sign several copies.)

They also have a rotating display of other cool stuff from the archive. My Dad and I cackled with glee over Nixon's resignation letter. (It's short.) I bowed before the might of Maya Lin's original design for the Vietnam Veteran's memorial. (It's handwritten, her handwriting is terrible, and her sketches suck too — neatness counts, my eye — but looking at it you can still see how brilliant the design is.)

Most delightful of all, there was a recent political cartoon that someone at the archive had clipped from the paper. In the cartoon, the President is reading the newspaper, and there's a headline about Vladamir Zhiranovsky, the scary Russian populist who was very big at the time, saying “Zhiranovsky demands return of Alaska.” The cartoon President is on the phone, saying, “Can you find me a receipt?” And sure enough, next to to the cartoon, there was the original receipt for Alaska.

I could just see some person who worked at the Archive seeing that cartoon in the paper in the morning, saying “I can find that!” Delicious.


Hey, kids! Apostropher found these cool stickers! I like this one:
This textbook contains material on gravity. Gravity is a theory, not a fact, regarding a force that cannot be directly seen. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered.
Remember, most Americans think science is bunk, and the Cobb County, Florida school board is working hard to keep it that way, so let's make sure that people understand that "spooky action-at-a-distance" is just a theory.

And while you're at it, you know Gary Pearse at bOING bOING has another idea for stickers.

26 November 2004

Is it just me?

Or does she look like Hiro Protagonist?

The problems of populism

Digby just hits the nail right on the head, pow, with a long post about the challenges of constructing a Democrat populism that will play in red America.
We cannot make a populist case to rural America as long as rural America continues to believe, as it has for centuries, that the government only takes their money and gives it to people they don't like. This belief is why people who should naturally support our programs instead vote for tax cuts.
So, Democrats are left with a difficult problem of how to deal with a region that is in economic distress but whose culture traditionally believes that government only helps people unlike themselves.

Now, we could, of course, make a fetish of pointing out the awful truth --- that most federal transfers come from the blue states to the red states. But, that doesn't really address the problem, which comes down to attitudes about the big city poor (blacks) vs the rural poor (whites.) And all that is tied up with the monumental social changes of the last fifty years, which mostly benefit them but which Rush and Sean tell them is the cause of all their problems. Every day, all day, with relentless precision.
Yes, if people were rational about these things you could sit down and have a nice discussion with spreadsheets and diagrams
But, as we've seen, people are not rational.

It's long, and well worth reading the whole thing.

I'd further emphasize the difficulty of the problem in that the VRWC has a whole noise machine built that churns out the raw material of infosphere manipulation to make sure that the the Republican populist smokescreen is secure. They have think tanks and advocacy organizations, busy turning out books and reports and bogus research and talking heads to appear on TV. This is to make it seductively easy for the mainstream news media --- increasingly short of time, attention, and resources because of their corporate masters' penny-pinching --- to play the political discourse using their terms and ideas. Plus they have whole media outlets which they outright own and control. And they have pots of money to give to politicians. And they have tightly-run, well-funded political organizations that span the local to the national. And they have their people well-trained to coordinate their talking points, stick to them, and articulate them well.

A few good populist ideas are not enough. It's going to take money, dedication, discipline, and time.

24 November 2004

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody. I, for one, know that I have a lot to be thankful for.

In honor of the day, I'd like to solicit some insight about a mystery that I have wondered about for some time.

I see Thanksgiving as a food-oriented holiday, and I'm comfortable with that, in spite of the creepy mythos of the holiday's origins. Eliminating Thanksgiving is a level of cultural reconstructive surgery that I'm not prepared to undertake, but I do think that all Americans need to acknowledge the problems in the "Squanto brings maize" myth. So I gather that Native Americans don't feel so charitably about the holiday, and I certainly respect that.

Among American Jews, it's a great legendary pseudo-tradition to go out to dinner at a Chinese restaraunt on Christmas Day. You have the day off from work, no other place is open, you don't celebrate the holiday, and everyone knows that pork is kosher if it comes in the form of pork fried rice. It's not actually something we ever did in my family; in a great show of Jewish-Catholic syncreticism, we kinda figured that more holidays equals more fun, an attitude which I have retained. But it's a well-known practice, and here in San Francisco it's commemorated by Kung Pao Kosher Comedy night, a revue of Jewish comics performing at Christmas in a Chinese restaraunt.

So I wonder: is there a Native American equivalent on Thanksgiving? Are all of the SF Native Americans over at Café Bastille right now, partying with the European expats? I hope that folks who have good reasons to feel uncomfortable with Turkey Day are doing something fun to reclaim the holiday for their own purposes.

Does someone in my vast reader population know?

Big fat lie

Why do we teach this to children?

I before E
except after C
and when sounded like A
as in neighbor and weigh

.... with just a few exceptions:

  • ancient
  • caffeine
  • concierge
  • conscience
  • deity
  • efficient
  • either
  • Fahrenheit
  • feisty
  • financier
  • foreign
  • forfeit
  • height
  • heist
  • heinous
  • kaleidoscope
  • keister
  • leisure
  • obeisance
  • protein
  • reify
  • reïnforce
  • science
  • seismic
  • seize
  • slight
  • society
  • sufficient
  • their
  • weird
  • ....


Arianna Huffington has a fascinating article about the mistakes of the Kerry campaign.
In conversations with Kerry insiders over the last nine months, I've heard a recurring theme: that it was Shrum and the Clintonistas (including Greenberg, Carville and senior advisor Joe Lockhart) who dominated the campaign in the last two months and who were convinced that this election was going to be won on domestic issues, like jobs and healthcare, and not on national security.

As Tom Vallely, the Vietnam War veteran whom Kerry tapped to lead the response to the Swift boat attacks, told me: "I kept telling Shrum that before you walk through the economy door, you're going to have to walk through the terrorism/Iraq door. But, unfortunately, the Clinton team, though technically skillful, could not see reality --- they could only see their version of reality. And that was always about pivoting to domestic issues. As for Shrum, he would grab on to anyone's strategy; he had none of his own."

Her description rings true, as far as it goes, but given how crafty the Republicans are at framing the debate, I wonder whether other strategy really could have worked any better. Yes, tactically, the Kerry team should have had a rapid-response team early to KO stuff like the Swiftvets for Bullshit, but strategically, it's going to take a long-term party-wide (and beyond) effort to take control of the issues on the table.

23 November 2004

Not the kind of design I do

I caught The Incredibles last week and it's as fun as everyone says.

It's strange to say this about a movie with no real props or sets, but one of my favorite parts of the picture is the production design, which an article in Design Observer describes delightfully.

Arriving at the estate of Edna Mode, visitors are led up a manicured hillside to an International Style house of uncertain provenance. Edna’s diminutive size (she admits to three-foot-eight) makes the scale of her minimally furnished home seem even more preposterous: from the Miesian lobby to the Bulthaup-inspired industrial kitchen (and let's not forget the George Nelson benches) it’s an aesthetic travesty: design beyond reach. Edna herself is a kind of cross between the diminutive actress Linda Hunt and the design impresario Murray Moss --- with dashes of Anna Wintour and Edith Head thrown in for good measure. In Edna’s domain, design manifests as a kind of Napoleonic obsession. A devout minimalist permanently clad in monochromatic shades of black and grey, she’s the ultimate cartoon embodiment of design.
Though it's strange that the article misses how much of Carrie Donovan there is Ms. Mode.

The mass psychology of Republicanism

I have three heaping servings of the dark psychosexual undercurrents of politics for you.

Mark Ames makes some very unhappy speculations about Bush voters in his recent essay The Spite Vote. (He later published a revised version of this essay.)

This is why [the left] will forever struggle to understand the one overriding mystery of why so many working- and middle-class white males vote against their own best interests.

I CAN TELL YOU WHY. They do so out of spite. Put your ear to the ground in this country, and you'll hear the toxic spite churning. It's partly the result of commercial propaganda and sexual desperation—a desperation far more common than is admitted. If you didn't know anything about how America's propaganda worked, you'd think that every citizen here experienced four-dimensional multiple orgasms with beautiful, creative, equally satisfied partners, morning, noon and night.

The wretched truth is that America is an erogenous no man's land. Most white males here (at least the straight ones) have either dismal sex lives or no sex lives at all. As bad as this hurts, the pain is compounded every time you expose yourself to the cultural lies that await you at every turn—that is, every waking hour and during deep REM sleep, when the subliminal messages kick in. This wretchedness leads to a desire for vengeance, to externalize the inner famine—it leads directly to the Republican camp.
non-millionaires who vote Republican, the so-called “Reagan Democrats,” know that the country is not theirs. They are mere wage-slave fodder, so their only hope is to vote for someone who makes the very happiest people's lives a little less happy. If I'm an obese 40-something white male living in Ohio or Nevada, locked into a permanent struggle with foreclosure, child support payments and outsourcing threats, then I'm going to vote for the guy who delivers a big greasy portion of misery to the Sarandon-Robbins dining room table, then brags about it on FoxNews. Even if it means hurting myself in the process.
SPITE VOTING IS not just an American problem; it's a flaw in democracies everywhere. When I lived in Kosovo in the late summer of 2000, I asked my Serb friends there if they thought Milosevic was going to win the upcoming Serbian presidential elections. Most were pessimistic. They told me of friends, young people even, who voted for Milosevic “just out of spite.” The Serbian spite voters believed that if the opposition got their way and Serbia became as tame and civilized as Luxembourg, all those college-educated Otpor protestors and pro-Western intellectuals would simply take the privileges for themselves. They didn't want caste-based happiness and its accompanying propaganda, so they voted for Milosevic precisely because he was wrong, because he was a vote against hope. Under Milosevic, nearly every Serb was fucked equally, and that suited some people, particularly some Serbian males, just fine.

George W. Bush and Milosevic have a lot in common.

Now I don't want to sound like I'm overstating the case. I don't believe that everyone who ever votes Republican is driven mainly by spite and deep psychosexual frustration and jealousy. But I think that Mark Ames is right that this is part of what's going on—think of the resonance that the meme of the “limosine liberals” in the “cultural elite” has for so many Americans.

There's a striking resemblence between that screed and what Wilhelm Reich, Freud's protégé, wrote in The Mass Psychologly of Fascism in 1942. (A book which the Surveillance Camera Players have conveniently summarized quite cunningly.) In “Preface to the Third Edition,” Reich says

The suppression of one's primitive material needs compasses a different result than the suppression of one's sexual needs. The former incites to rebellion, whereas the latter—inasmuch as it causes sexual needs to be repressed, withdraws them from consciousness and and anchors itself as a moral defense—prevents rebellion against both forms of suppression.
It is not only by means of this process that sexual repression strengthens political reaction and makes the individual in the masses passive and nonpolitical; it creates a secondary force in man's structure—an artificial interest, which actively supports the authoritarian order. When sexuality is prevented from attaining natural gratification, owing to the process of sexual repression, what happens is that it seeks various kinds of substituting gratifications. Thus, for instance, natural aggression is distorted into brutal sadism, which constitutes an essential part of the mass-psychological basis of those imperialistic wars that are instigated by a few.

Now bring it back to the Sontag essay about Abu Graib that I linked some time ago.

Is the real issue not the photographs themselves but what the photographs reveal to have happened to “suspects” in American custody? No: the horror of what is shown in the photographs cannot be separated from the horror that the photographs were taken—with the perpetrators posing, gloating, over their helpless captives. German soldiers in the Second World War took photographs of the atrocities they were committing in Poland and Russia, but snapshots in which the executioners placed themselves among their victims are exceedingly rare, as may be seen in a book just published, Photographing the Holocaust, by Janina Struk. If there is something comparable to what these pictures show it would be some of the photographs of black victims of lynching taken between the 1880's and 1930's, which show Americans grinning beneath the naked mutilated body of a black man or woman hanging behind them from a tree. The lynching photographs were souvenirs of a collective action whose participants felt perfectly justified in what they had done. So are the pictures from Abu Ghraib.
An erotic life is, for more and more people, that which can be captured in digital photographs and on video. And perhaps the torture is more attractive, as something to record, when it has a sexual component. It is surely revealing, as more Abu Ghraib photographs enter public view, that torture photographs are interleaved with pornographic images of American soldiers having sex with one another. In fact, most of the torture photographs have a sexual theme, as in those showing the coercing of prisoners to perform, or simulate, sexual acts among themselves. One exception, already canonical, is the photograph of the man made to stand on a box, hooded and sprouting wires, reportedly told he would be electrocuted if he fell off. Yet pictures of prisoners bound in painful positions, or made to stand with outstretched arms, are infrequent. That they count as torture cannot be doubted. You have only to look at the terror on the victim's face, although such “stress” fell within the Pentagon's limits of the acceptable. But most of the pictures seem part of a larger confluence of torture and pornography: a young woman leading a naked man around on a leash is classic dominatrix imagery. And you wonder how much of the sexual tortures inflicted on the inmates of Abu Ghraib was inspired by the vast repertory of pornographic imagery available on the Internet—and which ordinary people, by sending out Webcasts of themselves, try to emulate.
What formerly was segregated as pornography, as the exercise of extreme sadomasochistic longings—as in Pier Paolo Pasolini's last, near-unwatchable film, Salo (1975), depicting orgies of torture in the Fascist redoubt in northern Italy at the end of the Mussolini era—is now being normalized, by some, as high-spirited play or venting. To “stack naked men” is like a college fraternity prank, said a caller to Rush Limbaugh and the many millions of Americans who listen to his radio show. Had the caller, one wonders, seen the photographs? No matter. The observation —or is it the fantasy?—was on the mark. What may still be capable of shocking some Americans was Limbaugh's response: “Exactly!” he exclaimed. “Exactly my point. This is no different than what happens at the Skull and Bones initiation, and we're going to ruin people's lives over it, and we're going to hamper our military effort, and then we are going to really hammer them because they had a good time.” “They” are the American soldiers, the torturers. And Limbaugh went on: “You know, these people are being fired at every day. I'm talking about people having a good time, these people. You ever heard of emotional release?”

I'd add one little coda. This makes clear to me something about the ongoing kulturkamph.

To folks like the cheerful San Francisco libertines I know, it's absurd that anyone should think that dirty pictures are dangerous. Yes, much of American porn is both aesthetically and conceptually ugly, one might admit, but we can solve that problem by creating and enjoying beautiful, uplifting, joyful erotica. People understand the difference between fantasy and reality. They're just pictures, or words on paper, just fun.

True for folks who have other erotic outlets, perhaps. But in a culture with an unhappy ambivalence about eros, without other outlets? Where women have to get drunk to enjoy desire and being desired, where men are awash in frustrations at every level? Is not erotic art of any kind not a cruel taunt—be it Playboy, Mapplethorpe, Susie Bright, or pretty girls in beer commercials? Why are we making so much of the stuff? And where does the frustration finally surface?

What have we built here?

22 November 2004

Short sharp shock

Deadly Warren Ellis has just finished his 50 part series of very short fiction and essays, "Scream Talking", published on the web.

They are good, but not nice. Really not nice. Don't say I didn't warn you.

I give up

For readers' convenience, I've created an index of the Kevin letters so you can see the full progress of the dialogue


I have lost my faith in the productiveness of our dialogue. Take this most recent round as an example ...

I made a post quoting Mark A.R. Kleiman saying that, contrary to many lefties' protestations to the contrary, Americans are quite right to worry that the left is eager to impose its moral principles on them, as demonstrated by the Civil Rights Movement.

You commented to that post with a scattershot collection of observations. The red states of the '04 elections don't match the slave states, no matter what your lyin' eyes tell you looking at the maps. Government programs don't work because they discourage people from taking responsibity for themselves. The teaching of evolution had nothing to do with the results of the election. Kerry wants to tax the rich, but people don't want to vote for that because they might be rich someday. There's nothing special about slavery in the South because in the North many people were wage slaves, trapped by debt.

You cover a lot of ground, Kevin, and in order to try to clearly address just one of those points, I have to take time to unpack it clearly.

In this case, I responded in three pieces. First, I tried to clarify my own central point that Kleiman's thesis tells us that the South's resistance to liberalism is not a consequence of some Southern moral failure, but rather a direct experience of the heavy hand of the left. Second, I countered your seeming defense of Southern slavery by describing how it was more unjust than wage earners' situation in the North, taking great care to make clear that though slavery was a moral wrong unique to the South, it certainly did not make the North (or West) morally superior to the South across the board. Third, I connected your point about slavery to two other places where you have made statements that seemed morally slippery --- calling UK Guardian readers "terrorists," and saying that the Abu Graib "torture is bad, but so is terrorism" --- and proposed that you should state very plainly that, of course, you didn't mean to speak in support of torture, slavery, or treating British liberals as terrorists.

Take a close look at that post. In the first part, I came to the defense of anti-liberal South, saying they have a good cause for their anti-liberal sensibility. In the second part, I started by stacking up a bunch of facile lefty critiques of the South and shot them down, then took pains to critique your comment in a narrow and specific way. In the third part, I made sure to offer that it was likely my misreading of your writing that led to these disturbing conclusions. Yes, my writing was forceful, but also conciliatory, polite, and grounded in specific things that you said.

You responded by saying, of course I don't believe in those bad things, but then offer no real clarification of what you did mean.

On slavery, you still did not allow me my very narrow and specific claim.

The North is not always correct in this matter
I'm sorry, Kevin, but this is exactly my point. The North is not always correct, true. But in this matter, the North was correct and the South was wrong. In the matter of slavery, the South had a brutal practice that the North did not. I hope that you understand why lefties like me become so very uncomfortable when folks on the right will not simply let it rest when we say "slavery in the South was wrong."

On calling the UK Guardian readers "terrorists," you just flatly deny the connection I made without any explanation.

Nobody is advocating killing the misguided British (and other) letter writers
Well, you said very clearly "These pasty-face English liberals are as much terrorists as those in Al Queda," and also said "We need to continue to kill terrorists in Afghanistan, Iraq, Europe, or anywhere that they assemble." So you can understand my confusion. How do I reconcile these three statements? Are the Guardian readers not terrorists after all? Or are they a special class of terrorists who we should not kill? What are you talking about, here?

And strangely, you follow up that point with this:

accusing the President of lying as you did ... Do you think that it helps anyone? Debate is good, but name calling is not so good.
Eh? Saying that I think the President lied because, gee, he keeps saying things that are not true, that's name-calling. Saying that the Guardian letter-writers are "terrorists" is not name-calling, it's ... debate?

At every turn in our dialogue, you've answered my attempts to clarify key disagreements with comments that are scattered, unclear, and seemingly self-contradictory --- as I've catalogued in this post. Do you see why I find it just too difficult to puzzle out what you mean, Kevin, and respond to it thoughtfully, clearly, and civilly? I had hoped to learn something about where you're coming from in this dialogue, but I emerge only more frustrated and confused from each round.

So I give up. Is there something we're accomplishing here that I don't see? Because I'm feeling like I've wasted your time, for which I apologize.

21 November 2004


If you're the sort of person who's thinking of picking up Susanna Clark's Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, then you'll want to have a look at Kenneth Hite talking about how Neil Gaiman seems to have overstated the appropriate level of enthusiasm for the book.
Neil Gaiman, writer of unquestionably the finest fantasy comic book in the last twenty years, calls Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke "unquestionably the finest English novel of the fantastic written in the last seventy years." One hesitates to tangle with the Dream King, but he's wrong-wrong-wrong.
Unquestionably the finest English novel of the fantastic written, well, ever, and certainly since 1934 or 1926, is either The Hobbit or The Once and Future King. Gaiman says that The Lord of the Rings (which isn't The Hobbit, anyhow) is not "an English novel of the fantastic," which would perhaps come as some shock to the Professor. I agree with Gaiman that LOTR isn't a novel, in the formal sense (it's an epic), but it's pretty English, and The Hobbit is even Englisher, and definitely a novel.
Professor Tolkein was explicitly writing "English fantasy," so the Englishness quotient can be taken as a given. Apparently Gaiman and Tolkein disagree on what's "Englishness," in which case I can only say that, yes, Strange & Norrell is veddy veddy English, but so is The Hobbit, to this American at any rate. (One doesn't expect Gaiman to even try to question T.H. White's Englishness, but someone who will claim that hobbits are un-English will claim anything.)
I'm tempted to question Neil's Englishness at this point --- he's lived in the US for about a decade now, I think --- but I won't, as I wish to sleep well tonight.

Today's quote

So I learn from Errol Morris' wonderful website that Donald Trump's favourite film is, of course, Citizen Kane.
Morris: If you could give Charles Foster Kane advice, what would you say to him?

Trump: Get yourself a different woman.

Tip o' the hat to Kottke for spotting the clip.

20 November 2004

Stay on target

Part of how a lot of lefties, like me, got fooled into thinking that Bush would lose the election was that we imagined that the Bush "rally the base" strategy was ill-conceived. Traditionally, that's a Democrat strategy, since Democrats' turnout is more variable than Republicans'. Where was the extra base to draw from?

This was an underestimation of Republicans' organizing power, and an overestimation of Democrats'.

There's a lot of "let's get to work" talk on the left right now, and I think Todd Gitlin discusses the point well by comparing to how the right organized in the last few decades.

Those in the Democratic camp and the rational liberal-left who believe in long-term institutional politics should conclude that they could not possibly have compensated for 30-plus years of right-wing base-building with one year's fever of anti-Bush resolve. They should, like the Republican Party after the Goldwater cataclysm of 1964, sigh, shudder, mourn--and organize. They'll pick themselves up and get back to work building their start-up think tanks and media and Internet networks, from the Center for American Progress through Air America Radio through MoveOn.org and various 527 soft money distributors, all of which, despite starting late, made up for a good deal of Democratic organizational weakness in 2004.

That is, if they're smart. The post-Goldwater Republicans were smart. Despite what looked like a calamity, they didn't bolt from the GOP. They didn't break off as a third party, though some of them dearly wanted to. Will the rebellious left discipline itself, cool its boiling blood, and decide that the pleasures of sectarianism are worth less than the steady resolve of infrastructural work?

I hope progressives will be able to hold this thought in the coming years.

19 November 2004

Today's quote

Via noir svengali Thomas Roche, I offer you Delana Davies, concerned parent, who wonders
If it's OK to dress like a girl today, then why is it not OK in the future?

A promotion?

So Colin's out, and Condi's in.

American Prospect Online observes observes tartly

The feminist movement, whose early “assaults” on traditional morality sparked the backlash in the first place, is now utterly victorious. Under George W. Bush, Condoleezza Rice has become national security adviser, mismanaging the interagency process with more gusto than any man ever achieved; the word on the street is that she'll soon be promoted to Secretary of State for her troubles.

Indeed, I've heard for years in feminist circles that the sign of equality wasn't that competent women would have no barriers to success, but that equality would be when there were as many incompetent women in positions of prestige and authority as incompetent men. I've never found that to be a terribly inspiring way for feminism to frame its goals, and here we're vividly reminded why.

Of course, like so much of the Bush administration, Dr. Rice is not only inept: she's inept, malicious, and in a position of authority, like a sitcom boss. DeLong has some choice words about her 9/11 testimony, for which she should have lost her job. If you're hardcore, there's much more detail from the Daily Howler, and there's video of the key bit.

If you're not hardcore, just go see what they said on the Daily Show, or reflect on how grumpy she is.

18 November 2004

Map crazy

In case your hunger for electoral maps remains unabated, there's lots of them.

Classical skyscrapers

If you like that sort of thing, City Journal has some lovely sketches from architects imagining new skyscrapers as cool as the old ones, with some gratifying grumbling about Le Corbusier.

Okay, okay, Peter Pennoyer's Parthanon-on-a-hypertrophied-plinth idea is a bit goofy, but nothing's perfect.

Flag redesign

Tom Toles and Internebbish seem to have had the same idea.

16 November 2004

If Japan did not exist, we would have to invent it

Goofy Japanese TV commercial


Rumour has it that the woman holding the torch in the Columbia Pictures logo is the actress Annette Benning.

Not so. Roger Ebert has the scoop.

While Ms. Bening is a talented actress, she was not the model for my Columbia Pictures lady. The actual model is Jenny Joseph, a homemaker and mother of two children now living in the Houston area. She was an exceptionally gracious and unassuming model, and received very little compensation for her work in 1992. The face of the Columbia lady is perhaps one of the most famous in the world ... and it happens to belong to Ms. Jenny Joseph.
So now you know.

15 November 2004


So I saw this picture in a recent post on Mike Epstein's delightful photoblog Satan's Laundromat. As a caption, Mr. Epstein asks, “Does anyone know what this is advertising?”

Reaching into my deep knowledge of corporate stuff, I send him an email.

That's the logo for LG Electronics, a major electronics manufacturer that until recently did not have a very public brand. They used to just make "invisible" stuff like the radio that comes with your car. It seems they've decided to become more consumer-oriented.

But I've missed the point. He writes back.

I meant the R* (I know LG), but thanks.

Duh. But I'm on the case now!

Ha! I didn't even see that! I think it must be for ROCKST*R energy drink.

But no. I'm being anti-helpful, and he's way ahead of me.

I've been informed that it's for Rockstar Games

So I'm a brand-identifyin' loser. I write back one more time.

I guess that ad really didn't work on me.

Here in San Francisco, the Stadium Formerly Known As Candlestick Park has recently sold its name, and become Monster Park. I thought that the job-hunting people had bought it, but actually it was the cable manufacturer.

So see, Mike, I'm not a clueless loser, this is just an opportunity for me to make a hip observation about the ironies of consumer culture. He responds.

worst name EVER.

wait, no, pro player stadium is worse.

second worst name EVER.

Sure, Mike, dis the 49ers' stadium. Fine. Just don't remind me that I just gave a bit of free advertising to all these stupid companies, just like they wanted.

Don't click those links, people.

Except to Satan's Laundromat, which is cool.

14 November 2004

Missing the point?

For readers' convenience, I've created an index of the Kevin letters so you can see the full progress of the dialogue


Thanks for dropping in again to comment. It seems that I didn't make my point clear in that post.

I think you read me as implying that the states that went for Bush did so because they were tainted by the evil legacy of slavery, which I agree would have been an arrogant claim. But my post was motivated by me wanting to refute that reading of the maps, which is why it centered around the Mark Kleiman piece that I quoted.

Kleiman observes that when Americans uncomfortable with liberalism assert that liberals are quick to use the government to impose their moral principles on other people, they are right, as demonstrated by how in the 1960s liberals dismantled Jim Crow. Most liberals have a hard time seeing this because they think of conservatives as the only ones who are quick to impose moral principles through government. (Abortion, sodomy laws, drug laws, censorship, et cetera.) I connected that to the maps which show a strong correlation between slave states and states which awarded their electoral votes to Bush, the Republican candidate, in the ’04 election: they are states which experienced a particularly vigorous imposition of liberal moral principles in the aftermath of the Civil War. Thus many folks in those states have a hard time trusting liberals to leave them alone.

But I have to say that if my guess is right that you read me as claiming that the evil taint of slavery remained in the former slave states and territories then I am astonished by your response. There are so many pointed ways that you could have responded to that claim.

Had you said, “you lefties are always trying to blame the South for the sins of the past,” I'd have apologized for having inadvertantly implied that; we should live for the present, first. Had you said “if there's some evil lurking in the soil where I live because of the slavery of 150 years ago, then I'm sure there's evil in the soil where you live because of the endless massacres of Native Americans at that same time,” I'd have admitted that the South has no special monopoly on evil, nor does my beloved lefty town of San Francisco have any special claim to virtue. Had you said, “you lefties are always talking about the racism in the South when you should be cleaning up the racism in your own backyard,” I'd have said amen brother, because the left is and the left should.

But no, you leapt to the defense of slavery!

I think that it is the pinnacle of arrogance to claim moral superiority in the area of slavery. The north used people in their factories to produced goods. Those people were practically owned by the factory owners. They could not leave their jobs, they were in debt.
[emphasis mine]

I'm sorry, Kevin, but I think that in the area of slavery there's a lot of moral superiority to claim. Yes, the factory workers of the 19th century North were often trapped by their debts, as were many of the workers of the West. But they were not considered anyone's private property. They had no "owners" who could beat them, murder them, sell the members of their families away from them at will. Yes, I know that most slaves of the South were not treated nearly so badly as that, but some were, and all slaves lived with the threat that these things were permitted ... even protected ... by law.

It is absurd to say that the wage slavery of the North was indistinguishable from the slavery of the South. In the North there was injustice, there were people deprived of essential liberties, there was racism which was arguably worse in some ways than in the South. But in the area of slavery, as you say, I don't think there's any arrogance at all in saying the South had a unique moral problem.

I dearly hope that I am somehow misreading what seem to be some very strange moral arguments I hear you making. Workers deprived of some important liberties by their debts are not equivalent to slaves deprived of their most basic liberties by the law of the land. Obnoxious Brits writing letters are not equivalent to Al Qaeada terrorists. And terrorist attacks by Al Qaeda Saudis certainly do not justify the torture at Abu Graib in Iraq.

Tell me that you are not a defender of torture and slavery. Tell me that you don't think that writing rude letters marks lefty Brits as terrorists in need of being killed.

Please, Kevin. Please.

13 November 2004

Haunted house

The Dionaea House is a terrific, scary little work of fiction which takes good advantage of the web as a medium. If you like experimental fiction or spooky stories, take about an hour and read it.

12 November 2004

Red state thinking

For readers' convenience, I've created an index of the Kevin letters so you can see the full progress of the dialogue

Mark A.R. Kleiman is about a millimeter away from being the next contribution to my blogroll's bloat. He has a very insightful post about why the left rubs a lot of Americans the wrong way. It includes this gem ...

Not treating people badly because of their race, for example, is a moral principle; everyone knows that. And liberals insisted, pretty successfully, on imposing it on the rest of the population. The fact that the imposition was so successful that the principle of racial tolerance has now diffused itself widely didn't make it any less of an imposition, and many white Southerners who no longer hate black people still hate liberals for messing with their way of life, or learned to hate liberals from their unreconstructed parents and older friends.

... which explains the very disturbing maps which show that Bush won the states that had slavery 150 years ago. (For extra credit, see what Digby has to say on that subject.)

Kleiman goes on to say some very insightful stuff about gun control that every lefty should read. Check it out.

Then, for extra credit, go see Brad DeLong waxing snarky about the intellectual implications of Kleiman's prescription.

11 November 2004

Armistice Day

Before it was "Veterans' Day," November 11 marked the end of the Great War. Crooked Timber marks the occasion well.


Yassir Arafat

Grandfather of the unrealized Arab Palestinian state

Father of modern terrorism

I'll admit it. My first thought was ... good.

But my second thought is more complicated.

I’ve spent a fair bit of time studying and thinking about the fate of the modern Levant, the question to which Arafat devoted his life, and it’s really fucking complicated. When talk turns to Israel, I typically wind up arguing with whoever’s in the room. In loopy lefty circles, that typically means defending Israel by patiently explaining the history of the region — trying to stick to those precious few things that are clearly agreed upon as fact — to people who really don't know anything about it. In staunchly Zionist circles, it typically means criticizing Israel by painstakingly distinguishing Arab Palestians from Syria or Egypt or Jordan, pre-’67 from post-’67. In more daring circles, it may mean talking about how Zionism fits into the history of nationalism and European imperialism, asking why Israel was even a good idea in the first place, or reflecting on whether Brooklyn isn’t the New Jerusalem.

So my second thought about Arafat is complicated.

On the first day after a person’s death, I try to honor the tradition of not speaking ill of the dead. I gritted my teeth and did it for Reagan. But I cannot do it for Arafat. Amygdala reminds us not to cry any tears for him, and is right.

Yes, Arafat has been at war with a real injustice, fighting for a people wronged by history. But he has made his war against the wrong enemy, the Israeli people, by despicable means, awash in the blood of innocents. He has failed as a leader of his own people, robbing them of their honor, their gold, and the truth. He is one of the principal authors of our era of terrorism, leaving a curse for all humanity. We are all well rid of him — even, and perhaps especially, the Arab Palestinians.

It has been said that they are a people who “never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” This is, of course, both true and false — and most vividly so of Arafat. Perhaps now, without him, that will change.

So no tears. But today I can hope for the better parts — only the better parts — of his dreams to come true. In that spirit, I offer Miriam bat Asherah’s beautiful poetry and irony:

Moses never made it to the promised land.
Let’s forget for a moment those who say,
“Of course not; the Exodus never happened,”
Those archaeologists who would argue themselves
Out of existence (for we know if there is no
Moses walking through the desert there is also
No Miriam, no Red Sea, no timbrel).

Let us imagine for now a moment in imaginary
History, Moses standing on the precipice —
God saying, “You can look but not touch,
See but not possess, give but never benefit.”
Let us imagine that old man who has given his
Life to create a space for his people,
His son’s foreskin to be a bridegroom of blood.

Let us imagine him looking over, in his final
Moments — will they cross over? Will the wandering end?
Does it matter for now if an historical sojourn
Happened? For we all know exile, as those writers did:
That endless hike through desert, the wondering, the waiting,
The knowledge sinking in: all who knew the old way
Must first die before their tree bears fruit.

Not, of course, that the new way is any better.
Let us forget those who say that Jericho’s walls fell
Centuries before the text assures us. Let us imagine
Joshua taking the inheritance: coming in
Horns blasting, helped by a friendly whore,
And bringing the fortress of Jericho’s ruins down.
Let us imagine his young blood surging — old wine, new skins.

The newspaper tells me this morning: “Arafat Dies;
His Nation Unrealized,” and somehow I think of Moses,
That ancient dreammaker (and, some say, dream) who
Forged a people that he would lead only in exile,
Who dreamed of land he would never know. And I think
Of what it means to wander: exile itself sometimes the goal:
Realizing the destination is beyond us, and still walking.

See also: more Progress

God help us

Why are elections hard?
The computer industry understands the science of user-interface --- that knowledge should be applied to ballot design.
Possibly the most stunning thing I've read all week. Consider just one example of the insanity of this comment.
Raymond's recommendations center around the idea that open source developers need to meet the needs of "Aunt Tillie", whom Raymond defines as "the archetypal nontechnical user". (Hereafter referred to as A.T., because the name Aunt Tillie is so queer that it makes yours truly a tad queasy.) The idea being that if open source software is usable by A.T., then it'll meet the usability needs of everyone else, too.

But the whole A.T. angle is quite disingenuous. It wasn't A.T. who couldn't connect to a shared printer. It was Raymond himself who couldn't figure it out. Yes, I see the point that if it were so easy and obvious that A.T. could do it, a nerd like Raymond could do it too. But this is putting the horse way in front of the carriage. In what world does the "archetypal nontechnical user" have two computers connected by Ethernet? When A.T. needs to configure a printer, it's going to be connected directly to her computer, not shared over a network.

By focusing on A.T., Raymond is ignoring the actual depth of the problem. It's easy to say, The open source community needs to do better, we need to create software A.T. can use. But they're so far away from this right now that even an expert like Eric Raymond can't figure out how to use their software.

Sorry, but for professional reasons I'm sensitive about this stuff.

10 November 2004

Jon Stewart = Da Man

For those of you who, like me, don't have a TV, a friend has passed on a web archive of Daily Show clips provided by witty, fetching Mistress of Political Video Clips Lisa Rein. Hooray!

And while I'm on the subject, Jon Stewart has apparently read all of the same books I have, including The Fourth Turning. Dig his commencement address to graduates of William & Mary.

Lets talk about the real world for a moment. We had been discussing it earlier, and I --- I wanted to bring this up to you earlier about the real world, and this is I guess as good a time as any. I don't really know to put this, so I'll be blunt. We broke it.

Please don't be mad. I know we were supposed to bequeath to the next generation a world better than the one we were handed. So, sorry.

I don't know if you've been following the news lately, but it just kinda got away from us. Somewhere between the gold rush of easy internet profits and an arrogant sense of endless empire, we heard kind of a pinging noise, and uh, then the damn thing just died on us. So I apologize.

But here's the good news. You fix this thing, you're the next Greatest Generation, people. You do this --- and I believe you can --- you win this war on terror, and Tom Brokaw's kissing your ass from here to Tikrit, let me tell ya. And even if you don't, you're not gonna have much trouble surpassing my generation. If you end up getting your picture taken next to a naked guy pile of enemy prisoners and don't give the thumbs up you've outdid us.

Definitely read the whole thing.

09 November 2004

We'll be free soon

It will suck. I will see it anyway. StarWars.com currently has the teaser trailer for Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. (And the teaser poster is quite nice.)


You know how someone will send you a link, and you'll hang on to it, and finally read it months later, and be glad you didn't lose it? This is one of those.

How to handle subway preachers

08 November 2004

The hyaena in winter

Y'all may have noticed how, in deference to a friend's request, I'm trying to take it easy on the politics here and emphaise the popkultur side of my blog some more. Very difficult, in these trying times. As a step in the right direction, I offer you a profile of Hunter S. Thomson.
Thompson, 67, who is a friend of Benicio Del Toro, Bob Dylan and Johnny Depp, and the only one of that illustrious quartet who openly uses a spittoon, clears his throat and expectorates into the receptacle below his desk. His chair is surrounded by work spaces on three sides, like a mission-control centre. Across the living-room, the huge television set, which is never turned off, is showing highlights of a football game from Seattle. Stuck to the screen is a yellowed piece of paper that reads: "No music + Bad TV = Bad Mood + No Pages."
"Interviewing Hunter," Loren Jenkins [Newsweek bureau chief in Saigon, currently based in Baghdad] told me, "was the most excruciating experience of my life."

It's a combination of things, really: the ubiquitous firearms and narcotics; his nocturnal regime and sudden mood swings. I first encountered him in the early 1990s when I was working for another newspaper which had decided to send him to join the Royal press corps for the Highland Games. I met Thompson at Gatwick, at 6am. He lit his hash pipe while we were still in sight of the customs hall and insisted on being driven to Smithfield Market for whisky. When we reached his hotel, he barricaded himself in his suite for 36 hours, then fled back to Aspen in the middle of the night. His subsequent faxes referred to me as an "evil treacherous dingbat" and a "weird limey freak".

"In a strange way," says Ralph Steadman, "insults are Hunter's way of articulating affection."

Going up the driveway to his ranch --- before you see the wandering peacocks and the Cadillac convertible commemorated in his writing as the Red Shark --- you pass incrementally threatening signs such as "Keep Out" and "Danger Zone", culminating in: "Guns in Constant Use".

There is, however, a little bit about politics in there, I'm afraid.

07 November 2004


For all of you fans of Bee Season, I offer "Craziest", the animation-illustrated tale of a Scrabble qabalist.

05 November 2004

The galling thing

Why is this election so special? Lefties often go into a funk and mutter about incipient fascism after an election goes badly, but we get over it. This time, a lot of us --- and I count myself among that number --- are truly shell-shocked.

Part if it is how very bad the administration really is. Part of it is the creepy media environment we live in now. Part of it is the fear that American society really has become unhinged. And I have a long, serious post in the works about that stuff.

But there's a very immediate thing that I think has us stunned. We tried really hard this time. We dug deep into our pockets and gave money to the Democratic party. We gave our time to organizations. We went out to the swing states and worked door-to-door. The progressive wing didn't grumble and try to pressure the party; we pandered to swing voters every way we knew how. The Republicans ran a buffoonish candidate who didn't even win the election last time; we ran an articulate, politically moderate war hero candidate.

And still we lost. What more does it take?

Revolving door

On the very important subject of how superheroes' tendency to die and get resurrected can screw up their romantic relationships, I offer you this.
Since, for whatever reason, Scott (Cyclops) Summers decided he didn't like the Jean (Madeline Pryor) Grey he married out of happiness for the untruth of the death of Jean (Phoenix force) Grey, who hadn't, after all, really been his Jean (Jean Grey) Grey, Scott left Madeline, presumably to return to Jean. [By now, Cyclops had slept with no less than three separate Jean Greys, and remained unhappy; wisdom would suggest that perhaps he needed to pursue other conquests rather than follow this destructive course of attempting to sleep with every Jean Grey in the multiverse.]
I had trusted Bryan Singer to deliver us from this evil, but no such luck.

04 November 2004


I am beyond my capacity to write about it now. I'm in no mood.

Go check out these wacky infographics my brother sent me, if you need something to cheer you up.

02 November 2004

Election day


It's not over yet, but it sure doesn't look good for Kerry.

I'm on the road, so more articulate comments will have to wait.

Election day

All y'all know what to do. Vote early, vote often, vote no.

Tonight, with any luck, I'll be partying like it's 1992.

And whatever happens, Tom Toles gives us reason to cheer.

And on the dark side

Orcinus is maintaining a "Right Wing Thug Watch"
I'm not tracking voter fraud (unless violence is involved) or sign theft (likewise). Thus the list is restricted to actual violence, threats or intimidation, or behavior that exceeds the normal bounds of partisanship
It's going to be a long day.

Dewey defeats Truman?

Breslin thinks there's something fishy about the election polls.
Cell phones. Long I have wondered how many there were. Everybody I know, smart people, politicians, news directors, thought that there were, oh, 40 million or so. I call the cell phone institute in Washington last Sept. 12. They told me that there were 165 million cell phones in use in the United States, That is 165,000,000. One month later, I asked again. It was up to 170 million --- 170,000,000. Yes, a great number also had land lines. But of this 170 million cell phone users there were 40 million between the ages of 18 and 29, and these people usually have no other phones.

That had to be Kerry.

Not one cell phone in the United States had been reached by a political poll.
Then a night or so ago, somebody finally tried a poll of cell phone users between the ages of 18 and 29. John Zogby conducted the survey in conjunction with Rock the Vote and the results showed Kerry at 55 percent and Bush at 40.

Then the Kerry people ran their own poll, which took a lot of work. It was the first time they had reached any cell phone users. The result was Kerry 59 and Bush 39.

Sound familiar?

01 November 2004

Weird science

Thanks to Nina Kisch of Bibliovore fame, I can now offer you a link to What's New, a snarky review of the latest in weird pseudoscience. Today I learned about teleportation, Warp Drive Metrics of Las Vegas, positron bombs, and the Raelian's concern that particle colliders are doing nasty things to the teeny tiny people who live inside of protons.

Joe Bob says check it out.

Late-breaking news

Election day is tomorrow. Today I'm busy, and only have time to link quickly.

Kos reports on Republican dirty tricks to suppress the vote

DeLong tells us why the Bush campaign is happy about the Bin Laden tape

See the best guess about the electoral vote --- reading Kerry 298 / Bush 231 at the moment, though polls seem to be nearly worthless right now

The Rude Pundit calls John Kerry a superhero