28 February 2007


Digby posts on Tim Russert's revelations on the stand in the Libby trial, basically admitting that he hid what he knew about the Bush Administration's efforts to out Valerie Plame, in service of maintaining his access to White House sources.
All these famous, respected journalists were babbling incessantly about “the case” and almost none of them were telling the real story. It has taken putting them under oath in a federal trial to finally tell the public what they know about the most powerful people in the US government smearing a critic.

Can we all see what's wrong with this picture?

27 February 2007


The difference between Aaron Sorkin and Thomas Schlamme's shows Sports Night and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip is that in a half hour sitcom, a depiction of workplace sexual harassment can be played as funny and charming, while in an hour drama it is just creepy and wrong.

On the original version of this post (now lost beneath the desert sands) my mother commented:

I have been a fan of both these programs, but for me “funny and charming” just does not apply when sexual harrassment is involved, even on a funny and charming half-hour sitcom.

Sorry, bucko!

I take the point.

But I do believe in a certain storytelling magic in the conventions of genre. When on Sports Night Jeremy and Natalie banter about the sex they had last night right there in the production booth, surrounded by their colleagues, I can accept it even though in the real world that would be creepy and wrong.

I accept it because it's taking place in a workplace sitcom and their banter is obeying the rules of the Workplace Sitcom Universe, which are different from the rules here on Planet Earth.

  • Everything should take place in the funniest way possible
  • When two characters are talking other characters get to chime in to make things funnier
  • Everything takes place at the workplace or That Bar Where Everybody Goes After Work
  • ... and so on ...

While watching we accept huge violations of the rules of reality to support these rules of genre. So we look over many things that would be impossible, absurd, immoral, or illegal in the real world. Characters in workplace sitcoms routinely lie, steal, seriously injure their clients and colleagues, light the workplaces on fire ... and sexually harass their customers and colleagues ... and we are untroubled because of the different rules of Workplace Sitcom Reality. This is just like how we accept that Lois Lane doesn't recognize that Clark Kent is Superman and how we retain our sympathy for the lying bastards who populate a farce.

I had thought that this misbehavior by the characters of Sports Night was just Sorkin playing the rules of genre, so I could accept it. But now that it's showing up in Studio 60, which is in a different genre, it is very disturbing ... and in fact poisons my enjoyment of his earlier shows.

Unsolicited product endorsement

The Voco Clock features a set of wake-up messages from Stephen Fry, who played P. G. Wodehouse's Jeeves, the gentleman's gentleman.
The Voco alarm will lure a man from his secret recesses with the sound of gentle birdsong. This is followed by a discreet cough. Then the comforting words, “Good morning, Sir,” insinuate themselves into a room. This is followed by a message — a different one every morning (there are three months’ worth, before they start repeating, depending upon how you use the clock). They say things like:
“I’m so sorry to disturb you, Sir, but it appears to be morning. Very inconvenient, I agree. I believe it is the rotation of the earth that is to blame, Sir.

At the end of the message, a beep-beep-beep continues until the Cancel button is pressed, at which point the Clock says one of a dozen different things along the lines of: “Ghastly noise, I agree, Sir.” Or, “Sir has a firm touch, but very fair.”
£25.95 plus £8.50 post and packing.

If you like this sort of thing, don't miss the FAQ on the website.

26 February 2007


Martin Scorcese, best director.

Damn straight. It's about time.

Two Georges

Viewing HBO's The Ghosts of Abu Ghraib has Scott Horton at Balkinization reflecting on the two Georges, Washington and Bush.
Following the Battle of Trenton in 1776, Washington set firm rules for the treatment of prisoners in American custody. “Treat them with humanity, and let them have no reason to complain of our copying the brutal example of the British Army in their treatment of our unfortunate brethren who have fallen into their hands,” he wrote. In all respects the prisoners were to be treated no worse than American soldiers; and in some respects, better. Through this approach, Washington sought to shame his British adversaries, and to demonstrate the moral superiority of the American cause .... Washington makes clear that he took this approach in the end because of his experience in the wilderness, and the lesson he learned there: soldiers who mistreated prisoners, who took up cruel practices, were bad and unruly soldiers—the discipline and morale of the entire fighting force was undermined by such conduct. For Washington, the issues were clear on both a moral and practical level, and his guidance was given with firm conviction.

Washington's rules on the treatment of prisoners were doctrine of the United States Army for 227 years. From Washington's perspective, they were not marginal matters. Rather, they defined the United States in relationship to the rest of the world.
But early in 2002, a later George W, one who knew no military service, decided he knew better than the Founding Father. The Ghosts of Abu Ghraib makes clear that what transpired in that notorious Iraqi prison was not the misdoings of a few “rotten apples,” but rather the foreseeable consequence of policies shaped at the highest levels of the Bush Administration.

25 February 2007

Joss Whedon speech

“So, Joss, why do you write such strong women characters?”

He has a good answer. Actually, a few of them.

24 February 2007


Matthew Yglasias sketches a quick outline of the moral reasoning behind being pro-choice, and makes an important observation en passant.

That legal abortion encourages premarital sex is feature, not a bug.

This point is, of course, the real root of much of the controversy.

23 February 2007

Today's quote

From a movie review:
For years scientists have theorized that one day Nicolas Cage would overact so badly that his head would burst into flames. Now, with Ghost Rider, the phenomenon has finally come to pass.

22 February 2007

Celebrity trash

I usually avoid this sort of thing, but somehow these pictures got under my skin. It's actually heartbreaking, if you stop to think.

Parents, do not turn your child into a singing, dancing performing monkey. Because if you do, when she grows up she will go insane.


Yes, that's a white guy. He's “Chief Illiniwek,” the mascot for the University of Illinois; he performs a dance during halftime at football and basketball games. Well, he used to. Last night he danced his last dance, because the University of Illinois has reluctantly retired him from service in the face of pressure from the NCAA resulting from a longrunning movement objecting to how he offends Native Americans.

I first heard of the Chief a couple of years ago, when Michael Bérubé reflected on him. He reported that before he ever saw the Chief perform he wrote a little academic piece about why he was such a problematic figure.

The emotions and arguments of the Chief's ardent local supporters have close analogies in minstrelsy, which was vigorously defended, 100-150 years ago, as a vehicle for and tribute to authentic African American humor. (Today, these defenses of minstrelsy are either merely laughable or utterly unthinkable, and no sensible person would seek to revive them.) Similarly, the Chief's supporters insist on the “dignity” of this figure, and the “tradition” that underwrites his continued appearance. Yet no American university that wanted to think of itself, as Illinois rightly does, as a “world-class institution” would offer up a minstrel show at its athletic performances, regardless of how passionately attached to such shows anyone had become. Imagine, if you will, the further spectacle of alumni and trustees and state representatives testifying to their deep love of these humorous characters whose noble culture is enshrined in the revered tradition of the minstrel show. Such a spectacle would properly be seen, in 1999, not so much as a slur against African Americans as a shameful acknowledgment that the university offering the spectacle—and the people cheering it on—had no idea whatsoever that the racial discourse of 1900 was no longer appropriate to the year 2000.

When he actually sees the Chief in action, something subtler surfaces.

As they clapped and smiled and bounced, on came the Chief himself. It was a profoundly cringe-inducing experience. The Chief's supporters insist that his routine is “loosely patterned after Native American fancy dance”; now, I know even less about Native dance than I know about smooth jazz, but I am not aware of any indigenous dance forms that involve lots of splits and jumping and touching your toes in mid-air. I turned to Nick and said, “never mind the debate about whether the Chief is racist—this stuff should be banned for sheer cheesiness alone.” But I said it sotto voce.

For as I watched and cringed and cringed some more, I noticed that sure enough, people around me were cheering and tearing up. And I began to think, this is as much a cultural divide as a political one, a divide between those with a liberal cringe reflex and those without. Surely, for my fellow Illinois fans, my visceral reaction to the Chief was just the mirror image of their visceral reaction to the Chief—except that mine was defined by what they would see as an elitist, nose-pinching, PC rectitude that symbolizes everything wrong with liberal college professors. I don’t have any problem with the name “Illini,” actually—or, for that matter, with the name “Illinois.” But the Chief and his halftime dance are another order of thing altogether. Please, I thought, let this hopping-and-skipping minstrel show end, and let’s get back to basketball. I didn’t come here to meditate on town and gown—or on what we’d now call blue and red America.

Bérubé's observation underlines a slippery point. The Chief is, to my eyes, undeniably a manifestation of racist injustice. He is a cartoon Indian in a world where Native Americans are rarely ever represented any other way. He is a misrepresentation of a real people in a mascot fraternity of, as Mr Bérubé puts it, “culturally innocuous, inoffensively-named Golden Rodents Of Some Kind.” Native Americans should not be keeping symbolic company with gophers and badgers.

But I can comprehend how U of I partisans' professed love for the Chief is unmotivated by bigoted malice. Like all of my classmates I love my alma mater's mascot the quirky Banana Slug beyond all reason. Legend holds that when the chancellor of the University tried to change the mascot to the more mundane Sea Lion, the campus went berzerk with protests until the mighty Slug was restored. (Hardly extraordiary at UCSC, one of the most protest-happy schools in the US, but still.) And I suspect that most of my readers can think of similar irrational enthusiasms of their own.

So I'm sorry that some folks have this kind of affection yoked to a racist caricature. Lack of malice does make affection for the Chief forgivable ... but attachment to him reflects a disregard for the concerns of people who are wounded by him, and that disregard is bigotry.

I sometimes reflect that Al Jolson, the famed blackface singer from the dawn of recorded music, is inaccessable to us. He was reputedly a master of his art, brilliant and moving, but he sang in blackface and like most contemporary Americans I just can't get past that; it goes past offensive all the way to baffling. So his artistry is lost to me ... and I insist that it is a loss. Any artist's work that we can no longer enjoy diminishes us. But I would have it no other way. The dignity which that loss buys us is more than enough compensation.

So I apologize to the Chief's fans. You have lost something, guys, I won't deny it. I know that we lefties are sometimes eager to force our values on other Americans, but I won't apologize for that. I hold that history shows that these demands are always in service of justice and dignity.

So sorry about that, Chief. But get the hell off the stage, and don't come back.

A parallel example in the UK.

21 February 2007


Does your cable provider give you 108 channels? Industrial designers plusminus offer a concept project they call “remobeads,” which is basically a TV remote in the form of a mala.

Buy one with your Enlightenment VISA.

20 February 2007

Faith vs. practice

Appropos of my comments about Richard Dawkins ...
The other religions of the world, and religion defined by practice rather than belief, aren't on Dawkins' radar.
... I see that Cat and Girl have a little meditation on the subject of faith and practice, with a little detour into cocktails.

19 February 2007


I tend to disdain t-shirts, mugs, and so forth with “witty” sayings on them, but the folks at Ου Φροντις, “pretentious fun for the supercilious,” have so got my number.

18 February 2007

Gung Hoy Fat Choy

I think I'm a day late on Chinese New Year.

The Dream King wishes us all a happy Year of the Pig.

Happy Year of the Pig, to all of us.

Pigs, I learned as a boy, reading books, especially young pigs, are loveable, brave, noble and intelligent animals who have adventures.

I hope this year you get to be brave and noble and intelligent. But mostly I hope you get to have adventures.

(As G. K. Chesterton once said, An inconvenience is an adventure wrongly considered. An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered... )

So mote it be.

Drug policy

Mark A R Kleiman, who I quoted a while back musing about psilocybin mushrooms, has a good, long, serious essay at The American Interest talking broadly about the screwiness of American drug policy, and the debate around it.

To whet your appetite, he kicks off the essay by outlining how screwed up the situation is now, then outlining the nature of the problem very lucidly:

But the first step toward achieving less awful results is accepting that there is no one “solution” to the drug problem, for essentially three reasons. First, the potential for drug abuse is built into the human brain. .... Second, any laws—prohibitions, regulations or taxes—stringent enough to substantially reduce the number of addicts will be defied and evaded, and those who use drugs in defiance of the laws will generally wind up poorer, sicker and more likely to be criminally active than they would otherwise have been. Third, drug law enforcement must be intrusive if it is to be effective, and enterprises created for the expressed purpose of breaking the law naturally tend toward violence because they cannot rely on courts to settle disputes or police to protect them from robbery or extortion.

Any set of policies will therefore leave us with some level of substance abuse—with attendant costs to the abusers themselves, their families, their neighbors, their co-workers and the public—and some level of damage from illicit markets and law enforcement efforts. Thus the “drug problem” cannot be abolished either by “winning the war on drugs” or by “ending prohibition.” In practice the choice among policies is a choice of which set of problems we want to have.

Kleiman has his own preferences about what to do, which he summarizes for our convenience:
  • Don’t fill prisons with ordinary dealers.
  • Lock up dealers based on nastiness, not on volume.
  • Break up flagrant drug markets using low-arrest crackdowns.
  • Encourage problem drug users to quit without formal treatment.
  • Pressure drug-using offenders to stop.
  • Expand opiate maintenance.
  • Work on immunotherapies.
  • Say more than “No.”
  • Don’t rely on DARE.
  • Prevent drug dealing among kids.
Alcohol and tobacco
  • Deny alcohol to problem drinkers.
  • Raise the tax on alcohol, especially beer.
  • Eliminate the minimum drinking age.
  • Encourage less risky forms of nicotine use.
  • Let pot-smokers grow their own.
  • Get drug enforcement out of the way of pain relief.
  • Create a regulatory framework for performance-enhancing chemicals.
  • Figure out what hallucinogens are good for, and don’t let the drug laws interfere with religious freedom.
  • Stop sacrificing foreign policy and human rights objectives to drug control.
That's so much better than what we have now, I'm stunned into being unable to quibble.

17 February 2007


James Carroll has been thinking about “silent reading in public life.” It's a big deal.
In the ancient world, texts were read aloud, not silently.
But then something happened. At a certain point humans began to read silently and in privacy. Vocalization and memorization gave way to quiet reflection. “Silence!” became the librarian's command. Soon, that silence was enshrined in the spaces and punctuation marks that made each single reader the master-decoder of written language. A revolution occurred not only in the way texts were regarded, but in the way consciousness was formed.

The scholar Brian Stock points to the most famous example of this shift: One day, as reported in The Confessions, the young Augustine noticed that his mentor, Ambrose, was reading a book without moving his lips. “We saw him reading silently, and never otherwise.” What Augustine saw in Ambrose was an instance of pure interiority, reading as entry into a contemplative world. Augustine here embraced the philosophical ideal that would define him from then on—inner life as absolute. His conversion followed.

Where before, Augustine had regarded the Bible as the word of God, now he understood that the text of Scripture does not become the word until it enters the believer's consciousness. This marked a move away from authoritarian literalism to the imaginative autonomy of the intelligent reader. Here is the most important implication of reading as a wholly interior act: To perceive is to interpret. Truth has no meaning apart from its meaning in the reader's mind. Silent reading is thus both the sign of and a means to self-awareness, with the knower taking responsibility for what is known.

This inescapable individualism is the bedrock principle of democracy, a form of social organization that became possible only when contemplative reading was widely enabled by the mass production of the printing press, and the popular education that followed. With every person able to read in the mode of Ambrose, the genius of Ambrose could belong to all. But democracy assumes the protection of the values that contemplative reading makes possible—the self-awareness of citizens, their privacy, their capacity for willed interiority.

He goes on to wonder about meaning of the flickering screen full of text. Though anyone reading me now is conscious of the difference between reading paper and reading a screen, the difference is not so radical as all that—and displays will only get more and more like paper as their resolution improves.

On the other hand, we are now seeing the democratization of video, and ubiquitous web publishing. When all of us are authors of texts and films that anyone else can see, what kind of people do we become?

16 February 2007

Moral imagination

Digby observes that much of the conservative politics that lefties find callous reflects a failure of imagination.
Because his family was going through a medical crisis he understood why it was so stressful for people to be unable to afford prescriptions under such circumstances.

This is a big problem with Republicans. They reflexively object to any government program until they are confronted personally with a situation that requires such intervention. They have no empathy for people in the abstract, always assuming that whomever is saying they are in need is a whining malcontent who could be just as healthy and self-sufficient as they are if they truly tried.
Until it happens to them or someone they know, in which case they never question their philosophy as a whole but merely apply a special exemption to whichever particular problem or risk to which they have personally been exposed.

As George Lakoff will tell you, empathy for others' circumstances is a liberal moral value, not a conservative one; in the conservative system, other values predominate.

On the road

I know some of my readers worry if I don't post. So y'all know, I'm going to be on the road the next few days with spotty internet access, so I may miss a post or three.

Beds and vases

I have found a cartoon that will, in seconds, make you immune to Republican talking points about the Democratic Party's Lack of A Plan For Victory in Iraq.

Meanwhile, at the end of a different post, The Poor Man offers a more pungent metaphor.

15 February 2007


Ganked in its entirety from the Washington Post:
Some Loaded Comments at Abu Ghraib Screening

When the lights go up after most documentary screenings, you usually can expect a politely snoozy lovefest at the “panel discussion to follow.” So the folks who turned out for the preview of HBO's Ghosts of Abu Ghraib at the Ronald Reagan Building last night were unusually lucky.

Among the VIPs on hand to discuss the Rory Kennedy project (set to air Feb. 22) were Uncle Ted Kennedy and Sen. Lindsey Graham. The latter livened things up in a big way when he denounced Army Col. Janis Karpinski, who was demoted from brigadier general after the prison torture scandal.

“Karpinski should have been court-martialed,” said the South Carolina Republican, who sits on the Armed Services Committee. “She was not a good commander.”

Awkward! For who was in the audience but Karpinski herself. “I consider you as cowardly as [Lt. Gen. Ricardo] Sanchez or [Donald] Rumsfeld or [former Guantanamo Bay commander Geoffrey] Miller,” she shot back. “You're saying I should be court-martialed—they didn't want me in a courtroom because I would tell” the truth. Graham sputtered clumsily until moderator Jeffrey Toobin jumped in.

Afterward, Karpinski told our colleague Michael Cavna: “Ninety-nine percent of the story is still covered up .... Miller and Sanchez and Rumsfeld should be in those cells” with the Army guards who were found guilty.

If the style of this story seems strangely breezy, that's because it's from a celebrities-and-politicians column also featuring dish about Teri Hatcher baking cookies for George H. W. Bush, observations about cooking from the First Lady, and a possible sighting of LL Cool J in Washington, DC. Yeah. Because that's exactly where quotes from the commander of Abu Ghraib describing an ongoing coverup and calling Don Rumsfeld a war criminal belong, it seems.

Brad DeLong is constantly harping on the catastrophically bad editorial standards at the Post, and this is a good sign that he's on target.


Thomas R Disch offers us a very short, very scary story.

14 February 2007


As I'm fond of saying, I don't believe in astrology ... except for Mercury in retrograde. So FYI, Mercury goes retrograde today, which lasts almost a month until he's direct again on 12 March and then returned to station on the 26th.

This is happening in Pisces, which supposedly means that emotion and reason are likely to be extra tangled. Choose your words carefully.


Last year, Warren Ellis had this to say.
Happy Valentine’s Day to all. And to those who hate the day, I say this: Valentine’s Day is a Christian corruption of a pagan festival involving werewolves, blood and fucking. So wish people a happy Horny Werewolf Day and see what happens.

Horny Werewolf Day needs to come back. I expect R Stevens and J Rowland to have t-shirts ready for next year.

He's talking about Lupercalia, though Jason “Wild Hunt” Pitzl-Waters says says it ain't so. Still, sure enough, there are now t-shirts.

On a more romantic note, I offer this little passage from Iain M. Banks' brilliant and decidedly unromantic SF novel Use of Weapons.

He lay, often, looking at her sleeping face in the new light that fell in through the open walls of the strange house, and he stared at her skin and hair with his mouth open, transfixed by the quick stillness of her, struck dumb with the physical fact of her existence as though she were some careless star-thing that slept on quite unaware of its incandescent power; the casualness an ease with which she slept there amazed him; he couldn't believe that such beauty could survive without some superhumanly intense conscious effort.
I know the feeling. Happy Valentine's, everyone.

13 February 2007


So I saw this image of Jupiter's moon Io the other day.

It's a composite of pictures taken by the Galileo spacecraft about ten years ago.

Very pretty, I thought, but not terribly interesting. The little plume at the top is volcanic activity. But we knew about that from Voyager, in the late '70s. You may recall that this image set a record for being on the cover of at least a dozen magazines the same month:

But then it was pointed out to me that these aren't pictures of two different volcanoes on Io. They're the same one. It always shows up on pictures of Io. Near as they can tell, it spouted continuously for at least 18 years. It may still be happening now.

They're calling it the Prometheus Plume, after the titan who defied Zeus to bring fire and other crafts to humanity. How cool is that?

Science fiction writers, you've got work to do.

12 February 2007


Via the Wild Hunt, I learn that art collective monochrom, “an art-technology-philosophy group of basket weaving enthusiasts and theory do-it-yourselfers,” has declared 2007 The International Year of Polytheism. Their manifesto declares:

The “International Year Of Polytheism” (powered by monochrom) wants to overcome the epoch of the monotheistic worldviews (and its derivatives such as “The West” and “The Arab World”) through the reconstruction of a polytheistic multiplicity in which countless gods and goddesses will eventually neutralize each other. Polytheism is democracy, Monotheism a dictatorship, even in its pseudo-secular form.

Freed from the servitude of monotheism and the fraternal strife of the trinity, the world would be redeemed in a chaotic baptism of multiplicity. Besides, we believe that polytheism is the most suitable form of religion for a modern, dynamic and cosmopolitan young culture. Improve your C.V. with polytheism. Create your own heavens and hells. Or try it out yourself with our special Gods/Goddesses trial subscription. Our qualified operators are standing by to take your calls!

So far, in honor of polytheism, they've performed “the symbolic liberation of Barium Nitrate” and done an art installation called “Premature Burial as a Field Trial for Near Death Activities.” I have absolutely no idea what these things have to do with polytheism.

I never quite know where the irony begins and ends with these euro art colletives. Which is, of course, the point.

I find myself already looking forward to the International Years of Pantheism, Atheism, Henotheism, Deism, Panentheism, and Acosmism.

I'd like to give Nihilism and Gnosticism a miss, though.

11 February 2007


Over at Wired News, iMomus has been thinking about the advantages of living in a very, very small apartment in Tokyo.
Who needs a big fridge when you have a 24-hour convenience store right outside your building? Who needs a big bathroom when there's a well-equipped sento (a spa-like public bathhouse) nearby? Who needs a garage when Tokyo's public transport is so great? Even a big bedroom becomes unnecessary when you can book a love hotel—equipped with a Jacuzzi, vibrating bed and a karaoke machine—by the hour. When your city has great amenities, when its public zones are safe and inviting, you don't need a lot of space at home.
Pretty much the opposite of the the “American Dream,” that.

He also offers a list of strategies for releasing your attachment to your living space. It brings back unhappy memories of Wired magazine back in the old days—dig these too-clever neologisms.

  • Hikki
  • The Guest
  • The Dole
  • Writer Nomad
  • Smart Homeless
  • Squatters and Eel Houses
  • Hay Balers and Self Builders
  • Cockpit Living
But—again like Wired in the old days—there is some provocative utopian thinking lurking in there.

10 February 2007


For those of you who care, I know what Joss Whedon's doing with his time now that he's not writing Wonder Woman. He's called up a bunch of his old writing posse and started putting together Season Eight of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Really. It's gonna happen.

In an interview, he explains. It's not quite what you might imagine.

09 February 2007

Lantern's light

A while ago, I commented on Matthew Yglasias' well-circulated Green Lantern Theory of Geopolitics.

As you may know, the Green Lantern Corps ... recruits members from all sorts of different species and equips them with the most powerful weapon in the universe, the power ring.

The ring is a bit goofy. Basically, it lets its bearer generate streams of green energy that can take on all kinds of shapes. The important point is that, when fully charged what the ring can do is limited only by the stipulation that it create green stuff and by the user's combination of will and imagination.


Suffice it to say that I think all this makes an okay premise for a comic book. But a lot of people seem to think that American military might is like one of these power rings. They seem to think that, roughly speaking, we can accomplish absolutely anything in the world through the application of sufficient military force. The only thing limiting us is a lack of willpower.

Now I see that John Holbo at Crooked Timber finds himself reading some of the reasoning of hawkish bloggers, quoting Josh “Tacitus” Trevino saying:

The ability of a society to see through grinding conflicts like the Philippines Insurrection or the Boer War augers well for its future, lest it lose the mere capacity to conquer, and be susceptible to humiliation by any small power with no advantage save mental fortitude.

And this has Holbo thinking of the Green Lantern Theory. He makes a good point about it.

Do you think the problem with people who think this way is that they don’t read enough comic books, or do they read too many?

The former option hadn't occurred to me, but I'm finding it an intriguing possibility.


On YouTube, I've stumbled across a segment from a concert of works by composer John Cage broadcast on BBC4.
Tonight the piece is being presented in a full orchestral version, conducted by Lawrence Foster .... I promise you, this is the piece everyone here tonight has come to experience. There really is nothing like John Cage's 4’33”.

08 February 2007

Translation revisited

I blogged earlier about how Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s “wipe Israel off the map”comment is a misleading translation. Not that Ahmadinejad isn’t obviously a vicious hater of Jews, and Israel, or that he isn’t playing to these sentiments among many Iranians. He is. And that’s bad. But the misleading translation overstates the case in implying military intentions that don’t exist, as Juan Cole describes.

Ahmadinejad, however, has condemned mass killing of any sort and was not threatening military action (he is in any case not in command of the Iranian military). He compares his hope for an end to any Zionist regime in geographical Palestine to Khomeini’s prediction that the Soviet Union would one day vanish. It wasn’t a hope to kill Soviet citizens, but a desire for regime change. Ahmadinejad’s hostility to Israel and his Holocaust denial and bigotry are beneath contempt. But he has not threatened military action, and has no unconventional weapons, and his words, however hurtful, do not constitute a legitimate basis for a war of aggression on Iran.

For folks interested in the story of the quote, I find that Arash Norouzi at Global Research has a thorough overview of the story, starting from a close reading of the original statement ...

The Persian word for map, “nagsheh”, is not contained anywhere in his original farsi quote, or, for that matter, anywhere in his entire speech. Nor was the western phrase “wipe out” ever said. Yet we are led to believe that Iran’s President threatened to “wipe Israel off the map”, despite never having uttered the words “map”, “wipe out” or even “Israel”.

... and then walking through the story’s repetition in the media.

What has just been demonstrated is irrefutable proof of media manipulation and propaganda in action. The AP deliberately alters an IRNA quote to sound more threatening. The Israeli media not only repeats the fake quote but also steals the original authors’ words. The unsuspecting public reads this, forms an opinion and supports unnecessary wars of aggression, presented as self defense, based on the misinformation.

Found via a very spooked Ken MacLeod, who is worried about the troubling signs that the Bush administration is plotting an attack on Iran, and doubly worried about the consequences if this guess is correct.

If you like that sort of thing

It's real, and recently released on DVD. Dig the trailer.

07 February 2007


Via Think Progress, I learn that Tony Snow, White House Press Secretary, at a press briefing on Tuesday January 9th, said this:

You know that the “mission accomplished” banner was put up by members of the USS Abraham Lincoln, and the President on that very speech said just the opposite, didn’t he?
Here's Time magazine reporting on the White House's own description of where the banner came from:
The soldiers hadn't put up the sign; the White House had done the hoisting. It had also produced the banner ....
Here's the very beginning of the President's speech:
Thank you all very much. Admiral Kelly, Captain Card, officers and sailors of the USS Abraham Lincoln, my fellow Americans: Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.
Next up from Tony Snow: War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, and Ignorance is Strength.

Second Life

I've commented on Second Life before, but in an excellent post that praises witty and enlightened lawyers, Patrick Nielsen Hayden at Making Light points us at a much better commentary.

06 February 2007

Comix movies

When it comes to your superhero movie dreams, the Lord giveth, but mostly the Lord taketh away.

As I recently reported, Joss Whedon if off of working on Wonder Woman. So unless they give the project to Kathryn Bigelow, the project is dead to me.

Then there's Watchmen, forever in doomed preproduction. It's fun to dream of a Watchmen film, but it's hopeless. As I've said before:

Recall that Terry Gilliam tried for years to do it, then finally gave up because he thought it was too ambitious. When the man who made Brazil decides that a film project is too ambitious to actually execute, you know you have some fundamental problems.
Now I said a couple of years ago that I thought director Paul Greengrass had at least the right attitude for the project. But he dropped out. Now it's in the hands of Zach Snyder, whose adaptation of Frank Miller's fascist testosterone festival 300 is Coming Soon to a Theater Near You. From the impressive 300 trailer, which shows an amazingly close rendition of the panels from the book, it's clear that Snyder has technical chops and a love of the comics medium. And okay, he does understand the fundamental stakes in adapting Watchmen to the screen.
I just don't think that Hollywood, in general, has any idea what Watchmen is. They think it's a superhero movie. They think it's Fantastic Four, and guys, it really isn't. Basically, they thought they were making The Champ and they got frickin' Fight Club, you know what I mean? That's the difference. That's how hard it is. The problem is that if everyone thinks they're getting a superhero movie, what they're going to get is like something that really makes them examine the entire genre. I always say that if we nail Watchmen, if it's awesome, everyone [making superhero movies] is going to be like, “Man, you've made it hard for the rest of us.” Which is what you want, I mean, that's how it should be.
But does this guy really sound sophisticated enough to tackle Watchmen? Consider his take on doing 300.
The thing that's cool about 300 to me is that though it's a Frank Miller work, as an event in history, it's one of the seminal events. Everyone knows about it. I mean, any historian will tell you about Thermopylae, a famous crossroads in history. And so for that matter, it is a worthwhile story to tell, and I think that Frank, like myself, is inspired by that same story. I think and my hope is that in some ways it has accessibility in a broader world than Sin City. Though I'm a huge fan of Sin City, I feel like my father can go see 300 and go like, “That's awesome!” and see a fight for democracy, and I can go see it and go “Oh yeah, there's girls kissing!”
I don't have a problem with the slavering fanboyishness. Honest. Joss Whedon is a fanboy. Bryan Singer is a fanboy. But a guy who reads a story in which the Spartans are the good guys and the Athenians are a bunch of sissies as a “fight for democracy” does not have the political or artistic sophistication to tackle Watchmen. Gods help us if 300 does as well as I expect; the damned thing will actually get made.

Don't even get me started on Ghost Rider.

But worst of all: Sandman. Perpetually trapped in a glass bell jar of Development Hell and probably for the best.

Now I am not a person who thinks that a Sandman film is a film that should never be made. I know that Neil Gaiman has mixed feelings about Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio's screenplay, but it proved to me that, in principle, a good film could be done. Preferably directed by Guillermo del Toro.

But you know who would be a bad director to pick? Joel F#@*ing Schumacher, that's who. The man responsible for Batman and Robin. Thomas Roche wails ...

..why, God, why? Have we made thee angry? How angry is it even possible to make thee?
It is a nightmare. Neil Gaiman might accidentally catch a glimpse of the damned thing, flying on an airplane or something, and it would kill him. And the man is not allowed to die until he tells Alinora's story, do you hear me?

Global warming

Via BAGnews Notes, I learn that Stern magazine tells the story this warmest winter on record with pictures: the same place, the same day of the year, one year apart.

05 February 2007


I couldn't tell you why, but I think that the photoblog RunningFromCamera.blogspot.com is a little work of genius.
The rules are simple: I put the self-timer on 2 seconds, push the button and try to get as far from the camera as I can.
They're just pictures of different places. But where the usual tourist “standing in the place looking at the camera” pose would be sterile, the running figure just brings the picture to life. And something I can't name adds up when you look at a lot of them.


Lance Mannion, who knows a thing or two about blog posts that draw together disprate themes, points us to “Steve Kuusisto on Woody Allen, Oprah, and the ‘surge’ ” in Iraq.

04 February 2007

Magic mushrooms

Ordinarily square political blogger Mark AR Klieman reports that a new, serious, well-conducted study demonstrates that psilocybin mushrooms work.


Now it seems that the Beatific Vision, or at least a 60% chance of something the feels a lot like the Beatific Vision, might be in reach of almost anyone with access to a competent guide, a comfortable room, headphones, eyeshades, and the right kind of mushrooms.

Would that be a good thing? How much mystical insight can this society handle?

Good question. Klieman also considers some good questions about whether or not having psilocybin a Schedule One substance conflicts with the free exercise of religion under the First Amendment and why the researchers are having trouble finding further funding ... which both point to an answer to that first question. With enough mystical insight, this society isn't this society any more.

Considering the changes in society that coincided with the last uncontrolled mass experiment in entheogenic drugs, this is hardly a surprise.

03 February 2007


Via Charlie Anders at Other Magazine, I learn that Joss Whedon isn't doing the Wonder Woman film after all. Mr Whedon informs us that after famously struggling with the script ...

I'm no longer slated to make Wonder Woman. What? But how? My chest... so tight! Okay, stay calm and I'll explain as best I can. It's pretty complicated, so bear with me. I had a take on the film that, well, nobody liked.

Hey, not that complicated.

So it's turned out to be a Great Lost Film. In a way, I'm relieved; it's not Joss Whedon's destiny to make features, he was put on this Earth to be a TV showrunner.

While I'm on the subject, I'd like to nod to Charlie Jane Anders' excellent run of Wonder Woman blogging, including a discussion of the oddness of loving the character but few of the actual comics ...

Wonder Woman should be the most fun comic book character ever. Instead, she’s the most boring. Why is this?
... and of the importance of Nazis as villains in her origin ...

The problem with Wonder Woman is this whole idea that she came to our world to teach us about peace and niceness and caring.

She didn’t. She came here to fight Nazis. That’s all.

... further elaborating ...

Which is that it makes no sense that the Amazons, after hundreds (thousands?) of years of isolation, suddenly decide to send one of their own off into the outside world as an ambassador. Why now? What makes them think the rest of the world is suddenly worth engaging with?

That’s where the Nazis come in. Because the Amazons see the rise of fascism, and the development of more and more horrendous means of mass slaughter, and it freaks them out a bit.

It's just hard to make Wonder Woman work, and it was difficult for me to imagine how Whedon was going to do it. I had faith in his ability to crack the problem, because that improbable sounding “western with spaceships” thing came together well.

I wish good fortune on whoever takes the project next. They're gonna need it.

Today's quote

David Wessel of WSJ.com quoted by DeLong:
It is obvious that the bigger the company, the more the CEO gets paid. That fact has inspired more than a few big acquisitions.
Duh. This just hadn't occurred to me.

02 February 2007


Good gods. Via Dragon Lady Flame, I learn that yes, you can die from insomnia.


Matthew Yglasias explains part of the trouble with our political press.
The problem is that the press corps approaches political rhetoric with such reflexive cynicism that it's basically all tossed out as bullshit. In its place, they've substituted characterological analysis, the conclusions of which are generally divined from two days spent hanging with the candidate and a cursory glance at other reports from similar profiles. By peering deep into the politician's soul, writers supposedly assemble carefully observed facial tics and freudian slips into an accurate portrait of the subject's soul, thus illuminating Who He Is and, on a more essential level, what he'll do.

It's crap, of course. Indeed, the nice thing about working at an understaffed magazine with limited lede times, no travel budget, and spotty access is that it's forced me to approach political profiling in a different way. When I did the Gore piece, I was stunned by how much lay write there in the public domain, in his speeches and travels and deeds, but had never been noticed because no one bothered to look.

It occurs to me that this also reflects one of the virtues of the web. Candidates can and must tell their story at length on their websites. And anyone can now dig up a wealth of information about a candidate's actions and speeches with the simple expedient of a Google search.

01 February 2007

Alas, when we need her most

Molly Ivins

She was the first one to call him “Shrub.” She was the person who quipped that Pat Buchanan's 1992 culture war speech “probably sounded better in the original German.” She loved America but I suspect that she actually loved her home state more:

I dearly love the state of Texas, but I consider that a harmless perversion on my part, and discuss it only with consenting adults.

She was a great American and this blog mourns her passing.

Just for her, as a memorial, let's impeach the President.


I did my level best to not know what Paris Hilton looks like. I succeeded for quite some time, but eventually succumbed to the terrifying undertow of her fame.

I wouldn't bring her up at all, but via Other magazine, I find that Rebecca Traister at Salon delivers a rant about her as a kind of monsterous evil genius that is a little masterpiece of invective.

The other almost-supernatural aspect of Hilton's reign of harebrained horror is the way that she herself remains intact while those around her wither. Hilton is like some kind of Dorian Gray cockroach. While her buddies waste away and collapse and see their careers flushed down the celebrity toilet after having been in her presence, she grows stronger ....

Last week, as she spread like a rash to [Britney] Spears, the scariest image was .... a picture of the young women walking hand-in-hand, Hilton in a T-shirt that read “I'm Paris Hilton, I can do whatever I want.” Next to her, Spears wore a shirt reading, “I'm Paris Hilton, I can do whatever I want.”

She must be stopped. Before she kills.

Be warned that if you click through to the the article itself, you will discover that it includes a number of vulgarities. Inevitable due to the nature of the subject.

Data point

Steven C. Clemons at The Washington Note has made a field trip to the United Arab Emirates, where he observes that there are some smart, scared people trying to think about the future of the Middle East.
One of the things that most impressed me when I was in the UAE this past week was the sensible, informed perspective that every single government official I met had. There was no anti-Israel jingoism among government elites, though i can't say the same about people in the private sector. UAE elites are very shrewd realists about their situation—and they are clearly becoming the Hong Kong or Singapore of the Middle East.

There was instead a belief that the entire region was at a cross-roads where either an incredible stormy and politically convulsive future faced them or alternatively, that a new “equilibrium of interests” could be reached that would take guts and brilliant statecraft.

That said, there is something to keep in mind when Americans pontificate about what Arab regimes should or should not do.

They have a much more serious terrorism problem than we do.