31 October 2006

Rough day at the office

Not looking or feeling my best today.

It started as soon as I got to work.

But we managed to get our act together, and get some work done.


Neil Gaiman has an op-ed in the New York Times today.

He also commends this to your attention. I ... uh ... don't know how to describe it.


Chris Sims offers some advice on constructing your secret supervillain lair.
Despite the fact that crushing walls have never succeeded even once in the entire history of deathtraps, no super-villain lair is complete without them, and they're considered by many villainous subcultures to be signs of good luck.
He also has some observations that are very funny if (and only if) you were reading X-Men in the early '90s.


Timothy Burke is a serious scholar of African history. He's dismayed about recent developments in the US.
For years, one of the most powerful arguments you could make about a lot of misguided, failed or actively dictatorial regimes and political actions would be to point to some of the guiding political ideals and official practices of the United States. When the Soviet Union or other adversaries might point to alleged abuses of human rights within the United States (say, in U.S. prisons), a lot of us could take observe in reply that the abuses described were unofficial, or in spite of the law.

That’s all changed now.

When I say in the future, “Government which bows to the universal rights of human beings”, I can’t really say any longer, “Like in the United States”.
The only thing that our official representatives will be able to say at these and many other such moments in the future will be, ”It is ok for us to do these things, or reject these ideals, but not you. We are allowed to torture. You are not. We are allowed to hold people in secret, you are not. We are allowed to give the executive unrestrained authority not subject to judicial or legislative overview. You are not.”

Either you stand for universal principals or you don't.

30 October 2006

Risk, inequality, policy

If you're a social democrat like me, and think about political economy blah blah blah, then you may have heard about Yale professor Jacob Hacker's new book, The Great Risk Shift: The Assault on American Jobs, Families, Health Care, and Retirement—And How You Can Fight Back . If not, the book's thesis is basically that in the last few decades the American economy has changed such that individuals are facing a lot more risk. Maybe you'll get laid off, maybe your entire industry will dry up, maybe your 401(k) will crash on you, et cetera. As with risk in many arenas, this greater risk also comes with better rewards for the winners ... but most folks would like more stability in their economic life, even if it means more modest rewards.

It's an interesting thesis, and certainly fundamentally in agreement with what I see looking out at the American scene.

Over at The American Prospect Online, two of my favourite policy wonk bloggers, Matthew Yglasias and Ezra Klein, are doing a roundtable discussion with Hacker about the ideas in the book. It's full of great social values and political economy stuff like this from Klien:

Jacob blames the country’s ills on risk and Matt argues for a stronger focus on inequality. Neither is wrong, but neither is right enough
by crafting a compelling narrative that universalizes economic hardship, he plays into a pernicious political instinct among Democrats to drop the specific problems of poor people for the more broadly palatable concerns of the middle class ...
Good stuff, and these days delicious just for presuming that talking about economic policy is talking about what kind of society we want to have.

29 October 2006


What's at stake in the makeup of Congress? Consider this from Krugman, by way of Atrios:
Last year The Boston Globe offered an illuminating comparison: when Bill Clinton was president, the House took 140 hours of sworn testimony into whether Mr. Clinton had used the White House Christmas list to identify possible Democratic donors. But in 2004 and 2005, a House committee took only 12 hours of testimony on the abuses at Abu Ghraib.
Think about that.


Via DragonLadyFlame, I offer you Snakes on a Plane RPG, The Roleplaying Game of Personal Discovery, Dire Combat, And Motherf&*%ing Snakes, which actually has some elegant game mechanics.

28 October 2006

The Left Field

Only for the serious Sorkin fans, still wondering what to make of Studio 60, Ken Levine answers the question, what if Aaron Sorkin did a show about baseball?


If you happen to follow the political mediasphere such that you are exposed to the maddening half-truths of Thomas Friedman, you might have assumed that he was simply another journalist with atrophied analytical powers, drawn together with the rest of the herd to being an Iraq war hawk and boneheaded boosterism for economic globalization. Not so, says Marc Levy of Misanthropicity.
Friedman doesn’t write nonsense; he writes propaganda.
And why is this? Well, it turns out that he's not a journalist, if by “journalist” you mean someone who makes their living doing journalism. He's something else.
What he is, it turns out, is an extraordinarily wealthy man — living in a $9.3 million home, married into a family with an estimated worth of $2.7 billion — essentially working undercover as a shill, a beard, a stalking horse for his class, nine times out of 10 espousing cynically self-serving ideas in the guise of globalized idealist.
I find that this clarifies my reading of his work enormously.

27 October 2006

Pluto revisited

I thought I was done with the whole Pluto question, but discovered that I could not resist the symposium: Pluto ~ Good or bad for the Jews?


Maybe you've heard that Jeff Stein has been quizzing our nation's leaders.
Take Representative Terry Everett, a seven-term Alabama Republican who is vice chairman of the House intelligence subcommittee on technical and tactical intelligence.

“Do you know the difference between a Sunni and a Shiite?” I asked him a few weeks ago.
To his credit, he asked me to explain the differences. I told him briefly about the schism that developed after the death of the Prophet Muhammad, and how Iraq and Iran are majority Shiite nations while the rest of the Muslim world is mostly Sunni. “Now that you’ve explained it to me,” he replied, “what occurs to me is that it makes what we’re doing over there extremely difficult, not only in Iraq but that whole area.”

Fortunately, someone saw fit to inform the President about this ... just a couple of months before the Iraq invasion.
January 2003 the President invited three members of the Iraqi opposition to join him to watch the Super Bowl. In the course of the conversation the Iraqis realized that the President was not aware that there was a difference between Sunni and Shiite Muslims. He looked at them and said, “You mean ... they're not, you know, there, there's this difference. What is it about?”
Since the President made the decision to go ahead and invade, I'm sure that he carefully considered the situation and concluded that Rep. Everett was mistaken, and this wouldn't present much difficulty at all.

Billmon at Whisky Bar has some additional analysis of this article, including a dark observation that a better-educated leadership wouldn't have made the invasion of Iraq a better idea.

The Brits, after all, had T.E. Lawrence and Gertrude Bell, and they still failed in the Middle East—although not as badly as Don Rumsfeld and Condi Rice.

26 October 2006

Googlebombing for a purpose

Aha. I've been seeing this around lately, but didn't fully get it until Lindsay Beyerstein of Majikthise explained it to me.
Chris Bowers and the crew at MyDD have compiled the most damning news story about each of these Republican candidates. They are calling on all liberal bloggers to post the list, to maximize the visibility of these stories online ....
This is a googlebomb attack. The more folks make these links, the higher the linked pages rank in Google search results, helping to ensure that these stories are known to folks who google for information about those candidates. I had ignored it because I was past being amused by frivolous uses of this technique, but this is actually appropriate political propagandizing. So cruise on over to MyDD and get the source code for your blog today.

Links on the supporting page...

--AZ-Sen: Jon Kyl
--AZ-01: Rick Renzi
--AZ-05: J.D. Hayworth
--CA-04: John Doolittle
--CA-11: Richard Pombo
--CA-50: Brian Bilbray
--CO-04: Marilyn Musgrave
--CO-05: Doug Lamborn
--CO-07: Rick O'Donnell
--CT-04: Christopher Shays
--FL-13: Vernon Buchanan
--FL-16: Joe Negron
--FL-22: Clay Shaw
--ID-01: Bill Sali
--IL-06: Peter Roskam
--IL-10: Mark Kirk
--IL-14: Dennis Hastert
--IN-02: Chris Chocola
--IN-08: John Hostettler
--IA-01: Mike Whalen
--KS-02: Jim Ryun
--KY-03: Anne Northup
--KY-04: Geoff Davis
--MD-Sen: Michael Steele
--MN-01: Gil Gutknecht
--MN-06: Michele Bachmann
--MO-Sen: Jim Talent
--MT-Sen: Conrad Burns
--NV-03: Jon Porter
--NH-02: Charlie Bass
--NJ-07: Mike Ferguson
--NM-01: Heather Wilson
--NY-03: Peter King
--NY-20: John Sweeney
--NY-26: Tom Reynolds
--NY-29: Randy Kuhl
--NC-08: Robin Hayes
--NC-11: Charles Taylor
--OH-01: Steve Chabot
--OH-02: Jean Schmidt
--OH-15: Deborah Pryce
--OH-18: Joy Padgett
--PA-04: Melissa Hart
--PA-07: Curt Weldon
--PA-08: Mike Fitzpatrick
--PA-10: Don Sherwood
--RI-Sen: Lincoln Chafee
--TN-Sen: Bob Corker
--VA-Sen: George Allen
--VA-10: Frank Wolf
--WA-Sen: Mike McGavick
--WA-08: Dave Reichert


Perhaps you've seen Michael J. Fox's gutsy and heartbreaking campaign ad for Missouri Senate candidate Claire McCaskill, in which his plea for stem cell research is punctuated by tremours from his Parkinson's medication.

Rush Limbaugh has tried to outdo his usual low standards by saying Fox was faking to try to win sympathy.

Olbermann, Tristero, Hilzoy, Lance Mannion, Shakespeare's Sister, and Jane Hamsher give Limbaugh the shellacking he deserves.

25 October 2006

Torture and resentment

Lance Mannion has an excellent post about torture and the politics of resentment, if you're not getting enough of that stuff from me.


Digby points us at a short video from the BBC protraying some of the day-to-day life of US soldiers in Iraq.

It seems that the soldiers depicted in the film are tasked with rooting out insurgents, who are of course bad guys because they are fighting the American presence in Iraq. A big part of how they go about this is the soldiers just hang around. Sooner or later, they get shot at an Iraqi. So then they shoot back and hopefully kill the guy who shot at them. Voilá! Insurgent eliminated.

I guess that the hope is that if they hang around long enough, Iraq will just run out of insurgents. US troops have to be in Iraq—until Iraq runs out of people who doesn't like that they're in Iraq. Then they can leave.

It's like a Beckett play.

It's not like they only spend their time waiting around to get shot at. There's also stopping cars to see if they're full of insurgents, breaking into people's houses looking for insurgents, interrupting locals to see if they know where there are any insurgents, stuff like that. Digby observes,

Those poor Americans fighting in Iraq seem like decent guys who are doing a thankless task. But if you were an Iraqi you'd hate their guts.
That was certainly the the feeling I got reading an account by Lt Adam Tiffen on The Sandbox at Slate's Doonesbury site.
She looks relieved, and then she continues hesitantly. Her hands clasped together as if in prayer. “What will I do? How long will he be gone? I cannot stay here alone. It is dangerous here. Please bring him back tonight. If you do not, where will I go? Who will protect us?”

Behind her, I can see that her daughter has tears in her eyes. I turn away from their stricken faces. Glancing at the soldier behind me, I can tell that this is as difficult for him as it is for me. In a quiet voice, I give instructions to the private standing behind her husband.

“Alright, take him back out to the vehicle, and let's get ready to go. Let the CO know that we are done here.”

Accompanied by the subdued young soldier, the man leaves the room and walks outside without so much as glancing at his wife or his children.

“Ma'am, do you have family you can go and stay with? Is there someone you can live with until all of this is resolved?”

She thinks a moment, and then replies: “Yes, my husband's family lives in Baghdad. I could take the children and go there.” I nod my head and attempt to look encouraging.

“I recommend you do that. I honestly don't know how long your husband will be gone.”

It's worth reading the whole account. Lt Tiffen is truly a stand-up guy: decent, polite, thoughtful toward the Iraqi family with whom he's having this encounter. In his situation, I'd be proud if I could handle it with half the grace and humanity he does.

But look at what he's being asked to do. A good man being put in a place where the very best thing he can do is politely afford a family as much dignity as possible as he takes the father away, perhaps never to be seen again. Even if every American soldier were like Lt Tiffen—and while I am sure that many are, I also know that some are not—how is it that this can make things better, either for Iraq or for the US?

24 October 2006

Guilty pleasures

I expect that I have some Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter fans among my readership, and of those, one or two that may be interested to know that the nice people at Marvel are publishing a comics adaptation.

For folks unfamiliar with the intrepid Ms Blake, she's the star of a series of pulp novels. They're a mix of hardboiled detective story, romance novel, and monster horror, in a way that's surprisingly more witty than goofy. As the series progresses, the prose improves but the mix of tones becomes more awkward. Strongly recommended for folks charmed by the idea, strongly not for civilians.

Usually, adaptations from other media to comics are a waste of time. The only exceptions I can think of off hand is Bill Sienkiewicz' surreal “best of” Moby Dick and Chester Brown's scary Gospel of Matthew.

I've flipped through the first issue of the Anita Blake adaptation, and it really stinks. So you know. Lisa Fortune explains that this is because the style of the art is totally inappropriate to the story.

Good question

John Rogers at Kung Fu Monkey reports a dialogue about a vexing question.
Civil War re-enactments.
At what point do you think we'll finally be able to have Word War Two re-enactments?
Pretending to be gutshot for fun on Omaha Beach, or pretending to be gutshot for fun at Gettysburg—I know that one is morally unspeakable, and for some reason I agree that the other is socially acceptable, but for the life of me I cannot see the difference.
Can't pin that one down myself.

Oh, and it turns out that there are people who actually do WWII reënactments. Weird.

23 October 2006


Vile Republican Senator Rick Santorum alludes to The Lord of the Rings.
As the hobbits are going up Mount Doom, the Eye of Mordor is being drawn somewhere else. It's being drawn to Iraq and it's not being drawn to the US. You know what? I want to keep it on Iraq. I don't want the Eye to come back here to the United States.
I saw this a while ago, and the allusion gave me a chuckle, though the sentiment was a tiresome recapitualtion of the stupid “flypaper strategy” justification of the Iraq War. I didn't give it another thought, but Lance Mannion did.
I want to know. Who's Frodo in Rick Santorum's misreading of The Lord of the Rings?

While the eye of Sauron is focused on Iraq, who's carrying the Ring up Mount Doom to throw it into the pit and destroy it and end the war?

And is Santorum aware that Frodo fails?
The Ring gets to him in the end. It's an accident that it's destroyed. Does Santorum expect that Gollum's going to come along at the last minute?

Mannion's post is a cunning mix of Rings lore and politics. And then he follows up with an examination of what The Lord of the Rings is actually about.
The Lord of the Rings is not a political work. It has no political lessons to teach. It's a moral work. It's about the inner lives of individuals, not the public functioning of societies.

A very important way Santorum's allusion was wrong is that it uses Sauron as a stand in for an outside threat.

Sauron is an inner evil. That's why he has no body and no personality. It's why his armies are mostly anonymous.

Evil, in the Lord of the Rings, isn't an Other. It's a destructive force within ourselves that we bring to bear upon ourselves.

The bad guys are kind of a disappointing and unscary lot, just a bunch of fairy tale hobgoblins led by a yet another evil wizard, until they are seen for what they are ...

If you have any love of The Lord of the Rings in your heart at all, even a little bit, go read that second post. Likewise, my readers with no love of Tolkien but a love of transabyssal nondual awareness should check it out. (You know who you are.)

Really, go. It's lovely.

22 October 2006


Here I was just talking about the penetration of feminist ideas into mainstream culture without folks recognizing them as “feminist,” and I see another example making the rounds on the blogs.

It's an advertisement for Dove soap that's both compelling in its execution and a cracking good piece of feminist propaganda about our screwed up conception of “beauty.” I'm making it sound like eating your vegetables, but check it out, it's cool, I promise.

This is an ad with a cultural agenda. It's a feminist agenda, one that I favour, but I want to take a moment to remark on the squidgy frustrations I nonetheless feel with it.

First, as I said in the previous post, it's annoying to see feminist ideas being coöpted and not even recognized as feminist. Remember conservatives suddenly discover that Afghan women were oppressed by the Taliban? Having feminist ideas unrecognized as such is, in a certain sense, a victory, since it means those ideas have become pervasive. But it also is frustrating to feminists who know people around us who embrace feminist ideas but refuse to call themselves “feminists” because they somehow have it in their heads that feminists believe ... uh ... something bad ... about women being victims ... or something like that.

Second, it's disconcerting to see this in the context of advertising. Especially in the context of advertising for a company that's in the beauty products business. As Ampersand at Alas, A Blog observes about the earlier “Real Women Have Real Curves” Dove campaign:

The essential purpose of Dove’s campaign is the same as all ad campaigns for beauty or diet products: to make money by convincing people that they are unattractive and insufficient the way they really are. In Dove’s case, what’s being sold is “firming cream,” which as Lindsey at Majikthise points out, is just another word for snake oil. So Dove is trying to exploit women’s insecurities to convince them to waste money on products that don’t even work, but because they’re using models who are not actually anorexics, we’re supposed to see this as a feminist victory?

That, certainly not. But the fact that advertisers see speaking on feminist terms as a good way to reach people itself signifies that a victory has taken place in the culture.

Still, Ampersand is right on about flaws and limits in this feminist-influenced tactic, also criticizing the recent Nike print campaign that riffs on the way that buff women are a violation of common standards of beauty: “My butt is big.” “My shoulders aren't dainty.” “My knees are tomboys.” “I have thunder thighs.” Which is good, but buff women ain't the whole world.

Nike’s “my butt” ad features a picture of a butt that you could bounce a roll of quarters off of .... No loose, unruly fat running around here, no sir.
These ads aren’t about body acceptance, so much as they’re about regulating the borders of what bodies are and are not acceptable.

Roger that.

Still, let me rise in at least partial defense of these ads. There are interesting double-edged swords here. We get a physical standard offered, but it's an alternative to a pervasive and more destructive standard. We get nice big photographs of extraordinary-looking models, but we get copy that is an explict rejection of the judgements of the gaze of either gender. That ad says it in so many words.

My butt is big and that's just fine. And those who might scorn it are invited to kiss it.

And I think the “thunder thighs” copy is the wittiest, and takes us to a genuinely feminist perspective.

I have thunder thighs.
And that's a compliment
Because they are strong.

A woman's body not as an object for the gaze, but as something which serves the woman herself. Which brings us to another Nike ad, the “If You Let Me Play” TV spot which ran in '94, with images of little girls on the playground and a voiceover saying:

If you let me play sports
I will like myself more;
I will have more self-confidence,
If you let me play sports.

If you let me play,
I will be 60 percent less likely to get breast cancer;
I will suffer less depression.

If you let me play sports,
I will be more likely to leave a man who beats me.

If you let me play,
I will be less likely to get pregnant
before I want to.

I will learn what it means to be strong.
If you let me play sports.
If you let me play sports.

That's the case for Title IX right there. That's a vision of women and girls as something other than pretty dress-up dolls. Nike isn't exactly standing up for this across the board, but their advertising is selling the ideas.

Little victories, maybe, but good ones.

Update: Adding to this 2006 post in 2012 with a new Nike ad in the spirit of “If You Let Me Play”:

Update: Jenna Sauers at Jezebel finds a cosmetics ad featuring a bodybuilder and makes some interesting comments about the symbolism.

Update: A new short video from Dove with some anti-Photoshop hacktivism.

Since the graphic designers who would see the results are only the point of the spear of systemic sexism, there's a level on which it's badly-targeted to deliver the message. But there's still some poetry to this.

Update: Another new piece from Dove.

I find that one particularly well-executed; I cannot resist being moved by it. There's some juicy stuff in there about how women absorb the ideas that it's important for them to be beautiful, and an entire Insecurity Industry exists to ensure that women think that they don't measure up. And yet, at the same time, Dove is unmistakably a part of that insecurity industry, and the piece does not challenge at all the idea that having others perceive one as beautiful is important ... instead it reïnforces it.

This one has inspired a bunch of web commentary. A critical commentary on the “Dove Movement” campaign and sharp critiques of the Real Beauty Sketches ad from Jazz at Little Drops and Autumn Whitefield-Madrano at The New Inquiry.

Did you hear that, ladies? How beautiful you are affects everything—from your personal relationships to your career. It could not be more critical to your happiness!

Kate at Eat The Damn Cake expresses her ambivalence too.

We don’t do this because this is just how women are. We do it because we have learned that doing this is a part of being a woman. We’ve learned that beauty is really relevant and also it’s strict and specific and cannot reside in a face with a pronounced mole, so we agonize over the mole.

Meanwhile Smibbo provocatively suggests that critics have overstated the case against Dove for this pice.

For now, I’ll sum it up thusly: One beauty company decided to change their strategy from offensive and demeaning to just subtly pressuring. I can live with that.

A later, damning take from The Last Psychiatrist, The Dove Sketches Beauty Scam:

Dove, et al sympathize with your powerlessness, so since you can't get anywhere near those impossible standards, ads give you a chance of making some kind of progress: a little moisturizing soap and a positive message and maybe you get closer to the aspirational images of the women in the ad. "Those women are aspirational?" Of course: they're happy, Dad told them they're good. It feels like improvement, it feels like change, and I hope by now you understand it's only a defense against change.

Update: Yet another from the folks at Dove:

I like that one's use of the tools of cinema to draw the connection between the beauty industry and women's self-image. It's still weird coming from a company that's part of that industry.

Update: Another example, about double standards in the working world from ... Pantene.

That one's via Jezebel. And from later, I have another:

Found via Jessica Valenti's post Beauty companies now want women feel insecure about our insecurities at the UK Guardian, which expresses mixed feelings about it.

It's hard to disagree with the premise — it's true, these women have nothing for which they need to apologize (and yet many women still do in those situations). The same goes for Dove's incredibly popular “real beauty” campaign — yes, all body types should be accepted and loved. But there's something incredibly irritating, and crass, about beauty purveyors instructing women to “stop apologizing” or “stop hating their bodies” when many such insecurities stem, at least in part, from these very companies' advertisements.

Update: Critiques of photoshopping have become familiar enough that they are a recognizable genre all their own. Here's a music video which plays it for whimsy:

BOGGIE: NOUVEAU PARFUM from studiolamb on Vimeo.

Update: Another ad campaign in straight-up propaganda mode like “if you let me play”. I think it's a little on the nose, but you'd have to be made of stone not to be moved by the bit where the kids “run like a girl”.

Update: Molly Crabapple reminds us that all photographs — all artworks — are lies.

Photoshop, the belief goes, takes a true record of a moment and turns it into an oppressive lie.

But fuck Photoshop. Photos are already lies.

I'm a former model and current artist. I've learned this every second I've stared into the camera's insect eye.

Anyone who's been at a photo shoot knows that even untouched photos bear only the scantest resemblance to a subject. A photo is frozen. A model sweats and bloats, ages, and dies. Framing is a lie. Lighting is a lie. Cropping is a lie. When you suck in your stomach, or turn your head so the light washes out your laugh lines, you're lying as much as any liquefy tool. Untruth is baked into the process: Photographer Syreeta McFadden writes how the chemical makeup of some films is biased against dark skin tones. Even snapshots often don't look like you, because you are not static. You are a three-dimensional being, torn by time. Photos are pixel ghosts.

Update: A couple of music videos spend some time looking at women in ways that step outside the sphere of media conventions of “beauty”.

John Legend's song “You & I”:

For Colbie Caillat's song “Try”, whose lyrics are about the burden of the artifice of femininity, we see women removing their cosmetics and shaking out their hair, reflecting the song lyrics. Though I'm confident that Molly Crabapple would remind us not to mistake this for artlessness: someone has made careful choices about lighting and film stock and countless other factors that shape what we see to what effect ... including choosing whom we will see.

Put your make-up on
Get your nails done
Curl your hair
Run the extra mile
Keep it slim so they like you, do they like you?

Get your sexy on
Don't be shy, girl
Take it off
This is what you want, to belong, so they like you
Do you like you?

You don't have to try so hard
You don't have to, give it all away
You just have to get up, get up, get up, get up
You don't have to change a single thing

You don't have to try ....

Get your shopping on, at the mall, max your credit cards
You don't have to choose, buy it all, so they like you
Do they like you?

Wait a second,
Why, should you care, what they think of you
When you're all alone, by yourself, do you like you?
Do you like you?

You don't have to try so hard
You don't have to, give it all away
You just have to get up, get up, get up, get up
You don't have to change a single thing

You don't have to try so hard
You don't have to bend until you break
You just have to get up, get up, get up, get up
You don't have to change a single thing

You don't have to try ....

You don't have to try so hard
You don't have to, give it all away
You just have to get up, get up, get up, get up
You don't have to change a single thing

You don't have to try ....

Take your make-up off
Let your hair down
Take a breath
Look into the mirror, at yourself
Don't you like you?
Cause I like you

This again reads as a little too on the nose for my sensibilities, but the fact that this reads as necessary and even radical for some people tells us something, doesn't it?

Update: A friend on Facebook offers this comment:

You may be stunned to learn that I have some stuff on this. Here's how to cope: Get to know someone who works in advertising — as soon as they show you two different magazine covers of Angelina Jolie, in which her bones are literally in different places, you'll be over it. (Also, the war stories are priceless: Someone I know once got a note on a photo of a very famous actress which said, “Remove drool from corner of mouth. Fix stupefied expression.”)

Part two: Get involved with someone whose body is the walking picture of media-sanctioned perfection, and watch them lose their mind from the constant scrutiny, criticism, and perceived need to defend themselves.

Three: Cancel those magazine subscriptions, except for Allure and/or Vogue, because the Monica Bellucci Dolce & Gabbana cosmetic ads are spectacular. But see One, How To Cope, and don't buy that mascara. You know it won't make you Monica Bellucci.

Four, if you're into it: Actually, zero. This is critical: Surround yourself with people who truly love you and are into something other than all this. If you're me, that's the ladymonsters. Food, witchcraft, love, mental health, deep breaths, physical comfort, great books and movies, and tons of laughter are the best beauty treatments.

Back at four: Decide what you will and won't do. I love my dermatologist, but I'm never going to do an injectable. Remember that there are no miracle cures. Products will slow the process, but nothing halts the effects of time. You're more beautiful now than you were five years ago.

This from a self-professed former beauty junkie who has had to fight really hard to learn just this much.

It may be relevant to the reading of this comment that it comes one of the most glowingly beautiful women I have ever met. The Womens' Insecurity Industry remains very powerful, and the On The Nose responses remain relevant and powerful.

21 October 2006


Better than ever. And ever more necessary. He is truly a Great American.

Go watch.

20 October 2006


Via DragonLadyFlame, Tyger, an absurdly cool animation. Burning bright, I tell ya.

Korean nukes

Want to do your homework on what's happening, and how we got here?

Hilzoy at Obsidian Wings has the goods, going back to the Clinton administration. Fascinating and horrifying.

19 October 2006

Buried underground

Coolest club on Earth

How did this happen without anyone telling me?

Of course, I should have known. Last year, my soul sister told me a story from work. She's a high school principal, and some of the kids were speculating about what kind of music she favoured. No jokes about Lawrence Welk from them; I'm sure that they have never heard of him. Or of Cole Porter or Frank Sinatra, or of Trent Reznor or the Red Hot Chili Peppers, any of which would have been correct. She refused to answer, and one kid finally closed the issue with a snort, “She probably listens to rock ’n’ roll.”

Rock, the music of old people.

Just hearing that said will make a fella feel old, well before his time.

What can I say about CBGB that hasn't been said already? That I'm even qualified to say? I was there exactly once, in the company of a dazzling young woman who stopped by to say hello to friends who worked there. This was when I was very young so I hadn't heard of the place ... though I have a hazy memory of being stunned by the names of the bands on some old flyers that were posted somewhere.

I found out through James Wolcott, who was there.

It never occurred to any of us then that someday the CBGB's t-shirt would be a ubiquitous cultural signifier, Richard Hell's byline would grace the op-ed page of the NY Times, the Ramones' “Hey ho/let's go” would rev up car ads, Please Kill Me would be as much a classic of oral history as Edie or Studs Terkel's books, and Deborah Harry would achieve her dye-job dream of being a Warhol superstar in a post-Warhol world.
If that gets ya, he has more, as does Neddie of By Neddie Jingo!

Dream date

The very witty Biography Channel dating site offered me Frieda Kahlo, Mata Hari, and Agatha Christie. I was hoping for Dorothy Parker or Victoria Woodhull ... but still, that's a good list.

18 October 2006


If you loved that Saturn picture you might also like this bubble in space from Astronomy Picture of the Day.

Happy Hallowe'en

Echidne of the Snakes notices another sign of feminism's slow, creeping victory in America's ongoing kulturkamph, quoting from conservatives' discussion over at the National Review Online about little girls allegedly wearing slutty Hallowe'en costumes as a result of Those Nasty Feminists.

For the record, my daughter will be a princess this year. Last year she was a cowgirl. In the future she wants to be a “doggy-doctor,” a cowgirl again, and a witch. She has plenty of ideas on the subject and feminism hasn't entered into any of them as yet.

Being a cowgirl is not feminist? How many cowgirls do you remember from the old Wild West movies? How many female “doggy-doctors” were there before the second wave of feminism? Was it Jerry Falwell* who said that feminism would make women leave their husbands and turn to witchcraft? You get the point. Mr. Goldberg doesn't seem to realize how very much his daughter owes feminism already.

It was Pat Robertson. Thanks,mba.

It'd be nice if these folks didn't attribute their unwholesome Girls Gone Wild fantasies to feminism, but nonetheless, the transparency of key feminist cultural victories is a reassuring sign that, in some ways, it's inconceivable for us to go back to certain kinds of sexism that were pervasive within living memory.

17 October 2006

Exhibit A

The President signed the Military Commissions Act of 2006 today. Here's a picture.

These men have a date with the Hague.

Digby elaborates.

I don't ever want to hear anyone on the right talk about moral values again. They are concepts which they clearly do not understand. And if they dare to bring up the Bible or Jesus Christ after this I will laugh in their faces, knowing that by their own standards they are going straight to hell for what they've done.

Torture is a cancer

Vladimir Bukovsky reminds us that torture is not only evil, it's counterproductive—and hard to eradicate, once it get a foothold.
Every Russian czar after Peter the Great solemnly abolished torture upon being enthroned, and every time his successor had to abolish it all over again. These czars were hardly bleeding-heart liberals, but long experience in the use of these “interrogation” practices in Russia had taught them that once condoned, torture will destroy their security apparatus. They understood that torture is the professional disease of any investigative machinery.

Apart from sheer frustration and other adrenaline-related emotions, investigators and detectives in hot pursuit have enormous temptation to use force to break the will of their prey because they believe that, metaphorically speaking, they have a “ticking bomb” case on their hands. But, much as a good hunter trains his hounds to bring the game to him rather than eating it, a good ruler has to restrain his henchmen from devouring the prey lest he be left empty-handed. Investigation is a subtle process, requiring patience and fine analytical ability, as well as a skill in cultivating one's sources. When torture is condoned, these rare talented people leave the service, having been outstripped by less gifted colleagues with their quick-fix methods, and the service itself degenerates into a playground for sadists. Thus, in its heyday, Joseph Stalin's notorious NKVD (the Soviet secret police) became nothing more than an army of butchers terrorizing the whole country but incapable of solving the simplest of crimes. And once the NKVD went into high gear, not even Stalin could stop it at will.

16 October 2006

Today's quote

From Krugman, via Tristero at Hullabaloo.
The claim that these officials hyped the case for war isn't a conspiracy theory; it's simply an assertion that people in a position of power abused that position. And that assertion only seems wildly implausible if you take it as axiomatic that Mr. Bush and those around him wouldn't do such a thing.

Tough guy

Via Christa Faust, a little noir tale, “The Last Kayfabe” by Ray Banks, about an aging wrestler who's down on his luck.

Mind you, “wrestler” now means something different than it did back in the days when noir characters wore fedoras.

“That time you fucked up New Jack,” says Monty. “That for real?”

They don’t always recognise me. This one can’t believe a white boy pinned a former bounty hunter with four justifiables. I stare at him, wish he’d move his ass and hand over the fuckin’ dimes.

“No,” I say. “Wasn’t for real.”

“Any of that shit for real?”

Shake my head. Apart from the blood. The blood was real. The pain. Shit, you wanna talk pain, we can talk pain.

Mmmm. Noir.

15 October 2006


In a comment on an old post on Brazilian urban design, TheWayOfTheGun points us to a fascinating Wired article about traffic engineer Hans Monderman. His philosophy: remove signs and road markings and rely on the geometry of the roadway to calm traffic.

This is the hip new thing in traffic engineering, and apparently it works. Again, I've been reading City Comforts, and David Sucher advocates curvy roads and roundabouts, arguing that it's not slow driving speed that frustrates people, it's signs telling them to drive slower than the road is designed to accomodate — and then having to start and stop in the process. Steady driving at slower speeds is calming.

Monderman clearly has the knack for traffic design. The Wired article talks about an intersection he did.

We pass by the performing arts center, and suddenly, there it is: the Intersection. It's the confluence of two busy two-lane roads that handle 20,000 cars a day, plus thousands of bicyclists and pedestrians. Several years ago, Monderman ripped out all the traditional instruments used by traffic engineers to influence driver behavior—traffic lights, road markings, and some pedestrian crossings—and in their place created a roundabout, or traffic circle. The circle is remarkable for what it doesn't contain: signs or signals telling drivers how fast to go, who has the right-of-way, or how to behave. There are no lane markers or curbs separating street and sidewalk, so it's unclear exactly where the car zone ends and the pedestrian zone begins. To an approaching driver, the intersection is utterly ambiguous — and that's the point.

Monderman and I stand in silence by the side of the road a few minutes, watching the stream of motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians make their way through the circle, a giant concrete mixing bowl of transport. Somehow it all works. The drivers slow to gauge the intentions of crossing bicyclists and walkers. Negotiations over right-of-way are made through fleeting eye contact. Remarkably, traffic moves smoothly around the circle with hardly a brake screeching, horn honking, or obscene gesture. “I love it!” Monderman says at last. “Pedestrians and cyclists used to avoid this place, but now, as you see, the cars look out for the cyclists, the cyclists look out for the pedestrians, and everyone looks out for each other. You can't expect traffic signs and street markings to encourage that sort of behavior. You have to build it into the design of the road.”

That elegance of subtly encouraging folks to do the right thing is a hallmark of good design in any field. And the knack for getting the sum of small details right to do that is the defining characteristic of a good designer.

I've talked about Maya Lin before, as an example of this principle. For the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial, Lin was very insistent on using stone that could be polished to be reflective. She knew that for the memorial to work, you had to see your face reflected behind the names.

A good designer studies principles and successful examples, but that's not enough to make a good designer. It also requires that knack for cooking up the elements just right. This is one of the baffling things about both art and craft. It feels the same to create good art and bad art. The artist, or the craftsperson, is certain.

Monderman tucks his hands behind his back and begins to walk into the square —backward—straight into traffic, without being able to see oncoming vehicles. A stream of motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians ease around him, instinctively yielding to a man with the courage of his convictions.

Which is not to say that certainty is a sign that a designer is talented. But uncertainty is always a sign that a designer doesn't have the knack.

Update: Another article on Monderman, and a little observation about intersections without stoplights:

The key thing is that basically everyone drives slowly and steadily rather than in a stop-and-go manner. Stop-and-go turns out to be less a way of increasing safety than a way of maximizing the value of vehicles with high top speeds (i.e., automobiles) rather than slower vehicles (bicycles, scooters, motorcycles). So filling your city with signalized intersections turns out to be a kind of backdoor subsidy to automobile ownership.

A Spiegel article about Monderman hits another point about the psychology of driving:

“The many rules strip us of the most important thing: the ability to be considerate. We're losing our capacity for socially responsible behavior,” says Dutch traffic guru Hans Monderman, one of the project's co-founders. “The greater the number of prescriptions, the more people's sense of personal responsibility dwindles.”

Monderman could be on to something. Germany has 648 valid traffic symbols. The inner cities are crowded with a colorful thicket of metal signs. Don't park over here, watch out for passing deer over there, make sure you don't skid. The forest of signs is growing ever denser. Some 20 million traffic signs have already been set up all over the country.

Psychologists have long revealed the senselessness of such exaggerated regulation. About 70 percent of traffic signs are ignored by drivers. What's more, the glut of prohibitions is tantamount to treating the driver like a child and it also foments resentment. He may stop in front of the crosswalk, but that only makes him feel justified in preventing pedestrians from crossing the street on every other occasion. Every traffic light baits him with the promise of making it over the crossing while the light is still yellow.

The result is that drivers find themselves enclosed by a corset of prescriptions, so that they develop a kind of tunnel vision: They're constantly in search of their own advantage, and their good manners go out the window.

The new traffic model's advocates believe the only way out of this vicious circle is to give drivers more liberty and encourage them to take responsibility for themselves. They demand streets like those during the Middle Ages, when horse-drawn chariots, handcarts and people scurried about in a completely unregulated fashion. The new model's proponents envision today's drivers and pedestrians blending into a colorful and peaceful traffic stream.

It may sound like chaos, but it's only the lesson drawn from one of the insights of traffic psychology: Drivers will force the accelerator down ruthlessly only in situations where everything has been fully regulated. Where the situation is unclear, they're forced to drive more carefully and cautiously.

14 October 2006

The Lost Room

Here's the kind of thing you'll like, if you like that kind of thing.
In the 1960s, there still were hundreds of motels with thousands of rooms along Route 66 as it jinked its way from Chicago to L.A. and back. None of them stood out from the rest until one day—nobody's really certain when—something very bad happened in Room 10 of the Sunshine Motel, outside Gallup, N.M.

What happened isn't known, but the repercussions have been destroying lives and twisting reality ever since.

Room 10 and many of its mundane contents—a pen, a comb and so on—gained unique and dangerous properties on that day. The pen burns things from the inside out. Things like human beings. The comb stops time for five seconds when you run it through your hair. The room itself is an unchanging haven and a portal to any destination. But it can also take that which you value more than your own life.

This is the premise for a television series. The Sci Fi Channel is getting gutsy. And they've rustled up a hell of a cast of character actors.

13 October 2006


I want to finally follow up on my earlier post about blackhearted pirates. That's going to require getting into Freudian psychology, the Talmud, humanistic spirituality, esoteric spirituality, Star Trek, and all kinds of other stuff that I know some readers love and some readers hate.

This starts with a comment from Reya Mellicker on my previous post.

I try not to comment here, you know why, but I've been thinking about your Black Heart [of Innocence] post from the other day. I'm compelled to speak, though I will try to make this brief.

I'm sure you know that Johnny Depp is an actor, that the pirate he plays in the movies is a fantasy.

But the BHoI is real. When I think of it outside of the realm of fantasy, I think about my friend as a child being sexually molested by her cousin, also a child, in his parents' 1950's bomb shelter. I think of the children I knew when I was growing up, kids who (for instance) turned box turtles on their backs and laughed while they watched the poor animals struggling to turn upright. It was the BHoI that inspired these kids to leave the turtles to die of thirst and starvation. The lascivious purity of small children is very cruel.

The BHoI is yetzer ha ra—the urge to evil. It's a part of human nature, but the practice of cultivating it, especially without any accepted ethical or moral framework, creates horrors like Abu Gharib. Quasi-sexual torture is brimming with the energy of the BHoI.

In real life, Johnny Depp is a husband and father who, at the end of the day, washes off the make up, takes off his silly costume and—I hope—talks to his children about the characters he plays. I hope he explains why the fantasy is so much fun, but why the reality of the pirate's black heart is so potentially dangerous.

Victor Andersen was a charismatic and talented sorcerer. He was very disturbed.

I think the identification of the Feri symbol of the Black Heart with the Jewish Talmudic concept of the yetzer ha'ra is spot on, but I'm not satisfied with the reading of yetzer ha'ra as simply the “urge to evil.” Considering the nature of the yetzer ha'ra opens the door to some very interesting psycho-spiritual questions.

In what we might call “Talmudic psychology,” we are driven by the twin forces of yetzer ha'ra and yetzer ha'tov, the inclinations to evil and good, respectively. The Talmud teaches that we are born with the yetzer ha'ra, but the rabbis disagree about the yetzer ha'tov; some say that we are born with that as well, while others argue that we only acquire the yetzer ha'tov with the passage into adulthood of the bar mitzvah, at age thirteen. If we consider the latter to be true, that the yetzer ha'tov is a developmental consequence of maturation, then the yetzer ha'ra does match the Black Heart's “lascivious purity of small children and wild animals.”

But I submit that “evil” is a misleading term for the yetzer ha'ra. It suggests that we should simply avoid it entirely, resist it in every way. I think that's very unwise. The yetzer ha'ra is also sometimes translated as the selfish inclination, which has its purpose. Consider this traditional midrash:

If not for the yetzer ha'ra, no one would build a house, marry, have children, nor engage in trade.

We cannot do without the yetzer ha'ra. It contains a necessary vital force — what a Freudian would call libido, with yetzer ha'ra the id and yetzer ha'tov the ego.

Googling for someone else making that comparison, I discovered that David Holzel has already made both that analogy and another analogy that I was tempted to make, to the Star Trek episode “The Enemy Within.”

Pity poor Captain Kirk — a transporter malfunction splits him in two. Kirk No. 1 is a wild, irrational brute — pure id. Kirk No. 2 is gentle and compassionate. He is presumed the real captain, until the crew notice he is unable to make a decision — fateful or otherwise — and, in fact, is sinking into paralysis.
Viewed through a Jewish lens, this episode is an allegory of a man whose yetzer hara, or evil inclination, is split from his yetzer hatov, or good inclination.

I submit that the the Black Heart of Innoncence, the evil Kirk, the yetzer ha'ra, the libidinous id, the kundalini chakra, the Thelemic Will, and so forth are parallel descriptions of a source of vital energy in the human frame. In describing it Feri, Star Trek, the Talmud, psychoanalysis, tantra, and Thelema all say similar things. They say that this centre is integral to human nature and inherent in our drive to live and act. They also say that this centre is prior to the steadying effects of social convention and is obscured by the rational mind, neither of which can eliminate the voice of that centre, but both of which will distort its voice by trying to eliminate it, cutting us off from our full human potential. All of these schools I allude to—esoteric Judaism, psychoanalysis, tantra, Thelema, Feri—are liberatory schools, concerned with how we can reconnect to that centre without losing the benefits of our rational minds or the moral awareness of the society beyond our selves.

Doug Muder, on his way to a brilliant assertion that “humanist spirituality” isn't an oxymoron, has both an excellent description of liberatory spirituality and a helpful caution about how liberation alone isn't enough.

Connection is a positive sense of identification with something bigger than yourself, usually something that contains you. Bigger can be at almost any scale. Maybe you feel connected to your family. Maybe you belong to a church community or identify with a group like this one. You could connect with a political movement, a philosophy, a nation, the progress of humanity, the biosphere of the planet, or the well-being of all living things.


Liberation is the awareness of possibilities and potentials, combined with a sense of choice efficacy. “I can make things happen.” Liberation is about energy, creativity, inspiration. Liberation is that feeling you get when you break a pattern you weren’t previously aware of.


At first glance connection and liberation seem like opposites. Connection might mean strengthening your personal relationships and getting more involved in your community, while liberation might tell you to leave a small-minded community or break free from relationships that hold you back.

But this zero-sum view is too simplistic, because connection and liberation can be allies as well as competitors. Sometimes you need to liberate yourself from bad connections before you can make good connections. And disconnected, alienated people are the ones most likely to loose their freedom to predatory groups and dysfunctional relationships.


Now we're in a position describe good spirituality, and how it differs from bad spirituality. Good spirituality serves both connection and liberation. Bad spirituality sacrifices one to the other. The sacrifice can go in either direction. A cult satisfies your connection needs by robbing you of all your independence. A self-indulgent spiritual path liberates you personally by letting the world go hang—your self-expression or pleasure or power are the only considerations, and it doesn’t matter who else gets hurt.

I think that Muder's description of the liberatory project gone wrong is the dangerousness that Reya cautions against. I'm guessing that many of my readers are familiar with examples of folks who are products of psychoanalysis, tantra, Thelema, or Feri gone awry. But that is not an indictment of the liberatory project.

Nor is it an indictment of liberation that Evil Kirk, Captain Jack Sparrow, and so forth are fictional and fanciful. There is definitely a place for these poetic evocations of the yearning for liberation.

12 October 2006


Ganked directly from Chairman Bruce Sterling.

Saturn eclipsing the sun, as seen from Cassini. If that image doesn't inspire you with awe, you're uninspirable.
Too true. Wow.

Update: NASA offers a bigger version of the image.

Civil war

President Bush explained last week that we're seeing a bit of fringe terrorism in Iraq.
The terrorists understand the threat a democratic Iraq poses to their cause, so they've been fighting a bloody campaign of sectarian violence, which they hope will plunge that country into a civil war. Our commanders and diplomats on the ground believe that Iraq has not descended into a civil war.
Whew. It's a good thing this hasn't turned to civil war. Imagine how bad that would be. The American Civil War, for instance, was a notoriously bloody conflict.
The war produced about 970,000 casualties (3% of the population), including approximately 620,000 soldier deaths
Now that's serious. 3% is a small number for many purposes, but when it comes to this ... well, think of every class you took until you graduated high school. The war would have taken one person out of each of those classes.

The Iraq war isn't that bad, is it?

As it happens, just this week we have probably the best figures yet about Iraqi casualties.

A new survey says more than 650,000 Iraqis have lost their lives as a consequence of the invasion by the United States and Britain, with an estimated 200,000 violent deaths directly attributable to Allied forces.
Even I'm surprised by these numbers. But I believe them. This study, published in the British medical journal the Lancet, is the sequel to a controversial study a couple of years ago showing that about 100,000 Iraqis died in the first 18 months of the Iraq war. That previous study was controversial, of course, because war hawks insisted that the war must have made things better in Iraq in every way. Crooked Timber has a thorough review of resources on the subject that convinced me that the original Lancet study was legit, so I presume that the same applies to this new, more thorough, study.

And no, things wouldn't have been even worse under that evil tyrant, Saddam. That 100,000 was how many more died than than would have had we not invaded. Likewise with the new study.

Well, at least we put an end to Saddam's torture chambers. Uh. Or not.

But I digress. How does Iraq stack up against the American Civil War?

The 654,965 deaths estimated to have resulted from the invasion represent about 2.5 per cent of the Iraqi population.
See! Another 130,000 Iraqis are gonna have to die before this counts as a civil war.

You may also be wondering how the duration of the Iraq war compares to that of the American Civil War. Confederate troops captured Union forts on 3 March 1861, and Lee surrendered on 9 April 1865, putting the American Civil War at 1498 days. Whereas the Iraq war, which began 20 March 2003, has lasted for only 1301 days.

So not to worry. We've got an entire Friedman to get things sorted out before this becomes a civil war.

Some regular readers may be recalling an earlier post of mine, asking if the US spent longer fighting World War II. Not to worry. We haven't crossed that threshhold yet, either.

We have another month on that clock. So relax.

11 October 2006

Today's quote

Keith Olbermann on Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld.
They are never wrong, and they never regret. Admirable in a French torch singer. Cataclysmic in an American leader.
It's a wonder he isn't on Comedy Central.

An ounce of prevention

Digby provides a good analogy for the Bush Doctrine.

In other words, you can kill your neighbor “in self defense” because you know he hates you, he has weapons in his house (and has talked about getting some more!) and you can't just wait for the smoking gun to be a mushroom souffle. Invade his home and kill him. (Oh and hold a gun to his kids' heads and force them to pick a new daddy for the family. That way, it'll be their decision.)

10 October 2006

You say you want a revolution?

Well, you know ...

The revolution will not be blogged, will not be blogged,
Will not be blogged, will not be blogged.
The revolution will be no Web diary, brothers;
The revolution will be televised.

I guess I'm missing out on the revolution.

Via Chairman Bruce, who also offers us George Carlin's meditation on similar subjects.

09 October 2006

Art direction

With the way Americans seem not to have noticed that we have legalized torture and permanent detention in the US, I'm thinking about art direction. Yeah, art direction.

See, I had mixed feelings about the film adaptation of V for Vendetta, but in at least one respect I thought it was an improvement over Moore and Lloyd's original graphic novel.

In the novel, David Lloyd's detailed linework and use of muted colours not only looked like dreary, gray, rainy England ... it looked like you would imagine a dystopian, fascist England should look. Michael Radford acheived the same thing with the brilliant photography and production design in his film adaptation of Orwell's 1984.

Not to knock David Lloyd's brilliant work in V, but the film actually does something more subversive with its look and tone during the first act. Things just look normal. And people act normally. There are signs that they're living in a fascist society—there are creepy propaganda posters scattered here and there—but people aren't talking about it constantly. They're talking about work, and what they're going to have for lunch, and other ordinary things. Because that's what a totalitarian society looks like, not Lloyd's art or Radford's movie.

This reminder is important, because as IOZ observes:

You talk about Soviet America, or Fascist America, and people look at you like you're nuts because, after all, where are the bread lines? Where is the uniform drabness (well, okay, there's plenty of that)? Where is the oppressive misery?

We seem to believe that every single person in an oppressive regime or one party state spends his days smoking stale cigarettes and waiting to buy stale bread with his stale government paycheck on a dim street in atmospheric drizzle while the party newspaper blows by and a baby carriage rolls down the stairs, or whatever. But hey, there were plenty of Muscovites who lived high and fine during even the slender years of Soviet decline, and there were certainly plenty of Germans and Italians living fine and dandy pretty much until the bombs started falling on their cities.

I found that by way of Jim Henley, who alludes to it before he suggests that maybe the way to think of slip of the US into a corrupt, repressive one-party state is not like Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia but like Mexico.

Mexico was a nominally multiparty democracy with all the ceremonies you’d expect but functional one-party rule by a corrupt ruling class willing to use just the level of targeted violence and vote fraud required to keep control. And it was frequently sunny with some great beaches if you could afford them. A very bad place to be between a police captain or party official and something he wanted, and a poor country—that’s how corrupt party-states end up—but by no means the least pleasant place on earth. In your mind the film of Soviet Russia is always black and white and way too cold, but you can only see your mental movie of Mexico in technicolor.

As I've alluded to before, the Germans of the Nazi era thought they were free. And I've said before, American fascism would have to look like a Norman Rockwell painting. So art direction isn't the thing to look for, if you want to know whether it's fascism yet.

Congress just passed a law saying that the President can order people locked up and tortured indefinitely without them ever having a trial. Is it fascism yet? When, exactly, will it be?

08 October 2006

Hakim Bey

Bloody hell. I didn’t know.

I just found out that anarchist philosopher Peter Lamborn Wilson, a.k.a. Hakim Bey, is a pedophile. I’ve written about his long essay Temporary Autonomous Zone on this blog. I feel that it’s my responsibility to my readers, many of whom are acquainted with Wilson’s writing, to inform them about this aspect of his character.

Having brought it up, I want to be very clear and specific.

In America, pedophilia is a magic word that leads to panic, making me a little wary. I don’t want to be making a hysterical condemnation of Wilson. I want to condemn Wilson in as serious and clearhead a way as possible.

This starts with being very clear about the sexual mores in play. In my experience many social conservatives have a hard time understanding this stuff, so let me be a little long-winded.

Consent is the centerpoint of my whole conception of sexual morality. It doesn't matter to me who’s getting it on with whom, or how. The configuration of bodies is neither moral nor immoral. A man kissing his boyfriend on the lips, a professional dominatrix working over a client with a flogger, four drag queens in a whipped cream orgy ... whether or not I or anyone other than the participants think the act is good (or appealing, or tasteful) is not the moral question. Nor is desire itself moral or immoral. What does matter, morally, is that everyone involved an exchange is consenting to do it: they know what they’re getting into, they've agreed to it, there was no coercion, they’re mentally capable of consent.

And that last absolutely excludes children, who simply cannot sexually consent with an adult. The differences in power and understanding are too great for the relationship to not be fundamentally coercive.

I also think it’s important to distinguish thoughts and acts. The best evidence is that the fundamental shape of one's sexual desire is deep, immutable, and not subject to personal choice. The sexual desire for children — the desire itself — is beyond choice and has no consequences for others. I would not see people punished for having that desire, which is not a sin but a curse.

Yes, that's a touch of sympathy for pedophiles you’re hearing. To desire partners who cannot consent to your embrace? Who will, in fact, likely be severely harmed by your embrace, by even the knowledge of your desire? To have a sexuality that can never be morally expressed? A nightmare. I don't have it in my heart to condemn a person for feeling a desire which taunts and tortures them.


Violation of sexual consent is rape, in the first rank of moral crimes. To do this violation with a child, who is profoundly vulnerable and likely to be severely harmed, is truly monsterous. A pedophile who acts on their desires has committed one of the worst imaginable crimes. And making an effort to justify pedophilic acts is perhaps not monsterous, but is certainly repulsive.

Which brings us back to Wilson.

In a long and troubling article from anarchist Robert P. Helms, I see him make clear that Wilson is undoubtedly not only a pedophile in desire, but in unforgivable words and actions.

First, Helms argues that Wilson's anarchism is of a piece with his pedophilia, and serves as a justification for it.

Beginning with the July-August 1985 issue, the [NAMBLA Bulletin] carried a long series of items by Hakim Bey, who was already a distinctly anarchist writer. Most of them were discussions of the paedophile obsession with a clear anarchist slant. Anarchist ideology was the mode of justification, the method of persuading children to have sex and to keep it secret.

Helms provides a poem by Wilson, published in the NAMBLA Bulletin, as an example. Here's the damning bit.

The touch of his wet, bath-wrinkled fingers in my hand... but then...
one of his parents clumps down the hall... I suppose to make sure neither of us is raping the other...
[chorus of groans] Ohhh! for a
Buster-Keaton-bomb all spherical & black as coaldust with sweet sparkling with sweet sparkling fuse a mindbomb to
Drop on the Idea of the Family! O for a libertarian isle of runaways! O goodnight Moon, I am lost, actually lost without him
But I didn't want this to be
Just another poem about hopeless love. Pretend it’s a manifesto instead. Down with School! Boy Rule OK! In the land of dreams
No governance exists
But that of anarchs and kings, for dreamers have not yet learned to vote or think past the unfurling of the moment. He touches my cheek, runs delicate fingers through the hairs on my arm.
My liege shatters all Law for a triple kiss.

This makes it very clear — especially if you've read some of his more directly anarchist writing —that his anarchist vision is thoroughly entangled with his pursuit of the embrace of young boys.

Further, Helms provides evidence that Wilson has apparently used anarchist circles as an unwholesome way of getting access to children.

In the letters column of Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed (#20/21, Nov-Dec 1989, p. 42), a letter announced a new a zine for contributors 17 and under. Wild Children, as the zine was called, solicited articles on “anarchy (of course!), sci-fi, sexuality & love, spiritual paths (or lack thereof), and anything else kids would like to submit.” The letter gave Hakim Bey as the editor, at a Brooklyn PO Box.

In another essay, Helms argues persuasively that this agenda poisons Bey/Wilsons anarchist writing sufficiently that anyone reading his work should be informed of the connection.

In this writer’s opinion, the pedophile writings of Hakim Bey indicate a general deceit in his philosophy, and are evidence that his concept of the Temporary Autonomous Zone is inspired by opportunism, not by good will. He presents arguments for human freedom while actually wishing to create situations where he is free to put his deranged sexuality into practice. This is an abuse of anarchism, and new readers of Hakim Bey should take the pedophilia into consideration before being led “down the garden path.”

And last, and worst, back in the first article Helms quotes Wilson making what sounds like a roundabout admission to consummating his pedophilic desires.

“I admit to a philosophical preference for Mackay's position...” [which means the] “giving up of all false chivalry and self-denying dandyism in favour of more ‘pagan’ and convivial modes of love.” He closes the essay with his clearest anarcho-paedophile statement: “it has taken on a tantalising reality and filtered into my life in certain Temporary Autonomous Zones an impossible time and space and on this brief hint, all my theory is based.” What he means by this is that he really has sex with children, rather than leaving the matter to fantasy, and that this is his purpose when he preaches anarchism.

This, of course, is cause for the most vigorous condemnation. I’ll be linking this essay everywhere I mention Bey/Wilson.


Robert P. Helms further underlines how entangled Bey's pedophilia is with his anarchism.

In this writer’s opinion, the pedophile writings of Hakim Bey indicate a general deceit in his philosophy, and are evidence that his concept of the Temporary Autonomous Zone is inspired by opportunism, not by good will. He presents arguments for human freedom while actually wishing to create situations where he is free to put his deranged sexuality into practice. This is an abuse of anarchism, and new readers of Hakim Bey should take the pedophilia into consideration before being led “down the garden path.” Once the awkwardness has been overcome and we look at pedophilia as an item for discussion, we will make very short work of it. All attempts to justify the practice are morally idiotic, and the TAZ is no more than a “Neverland” on the anarchist landscape.

07 October 2006

Jeeves vs. Pooh

Via Contentlove, the astonishing story of P.G. Wodehouse, A. A. Milne, and the politics of WWII.

06 October 2006

Geneva conventions

This is a direct copy of a post at Making Light which breaks my heart.

Attention US military personnel

by Jim Macdonald, 2 October 2006

You are not required to obey an unlawful order.

You are required to disobey an unlawful order.

You swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

The Constitution states (Article VI):

This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.

Here is article 3, the common article, to the Geneva Conventions, a duly ratified treaty made under the authority of the United States:

Article 3
In the case of armed conflict not of an international character occurring in the territory of one of the High Contracting Parties, each party to the conflict shall be bound to apply, as a minimum, the following provisions:
  1. Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, colour, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria.

    To this end the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons:
    1. Violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture;
    2. Taking of hostages;
    3. Outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment;
    4. The passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.
  2. The wounded and sick shall be collected and cared for.

    An impartial humanitarian body, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, may offer its services to the Parties to the conflict.

    The Parties to the conflict should further endeavour to bring into force, by means of special agreements, all or part of the other provisions of the present Convention.

    The application of the preceding provisions shall not affect the legal status of the Parties to the conflict.

Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions is straightforward and clear. Under Article VI of the Constitution, it forms part of the supreme law of the land.

You personally will be held responsible for all of your actions, in all countries, at all times and places, for the rest of your life. “I was only following orders” is not a defense.

What all this is leading to:

If you are ordered to violate Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, it is your duty to disobey that order. No “clarification,” whether passed by Congress or signed by the president, relieves you of that duty.

If you are ordered to violate Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, this is what to do:

  1. Request that your superior put the order in writing.
  2. If your superior puts the order in writing, inform your superior that you intend to disobey that order.
  3. Request trial by courtmartial.

You will almost certainly face disciplinary action, harassment of various kinds, loss of pay, loss of liberty, discomfort and indignity. America relies on you and your courage to face those challenges.

We, the people, need you to support and defend the Constitution. I am certain that your honor and patriotism are equal to the task.

This post may be quoted in full. A linkback would be appreciated.