December 31, 2005

My New Year's Resolution:

To have a better year than George W. Bush.

Shouldn't be too difficult; I managed it this year, narrowly (thanks, Scooter!)

The Hookies

Last year, David Brooks created an award for quality political and cultural essays. Named after Sidney Hook, Brooks chose the following essays this year.


I'm a little unclear why Brooks chose Sidney Hook as the award's namesake and not Lionel Trilling or someone else similar. I've read Hook (actually, I wrote a 30-some page paper on him) and I never found him to be original (almost all his ideas are reactions to or extensions from John Dewey, his mentor) or even a very good writer. His prose is limpid, arid, and tedious.

I suppose that's why Brooks admires him.

The First Funny Thing Steve Martin Has Done Since...

"Why would you add a second to the year unless you’re an anti-American hate monger?"

Martin ventriloquizes Bill O'Reilly's fear of the leap second this year.

December 30, 2005

Somalian Kids

Buried in the Times today is an article about how a lot of children of the Somalian refugees who emigrated within the past 10 years or so aren't being educated. It's pretty fucking outrageous and the reporter catches the superintendent in a bunch of lies.

The long and short of the situation seems to be this:
1) The kids don't speak English. A lot of the time a ninth-grade teacher or whoever can't go back and reteach some kids from square one, which is completely understandable.
2) The school system can't afford to pay a bunch of translators. Also understandable. But they have hired two people on a part-time basis, which is a start.
3) The school system, instead of doing the sensible thing and putting all the kids or most of the kids in one place so they can get as much help as possible from the translators, has chosen to stick them all over the city, sending two kids from the same family in different high schools. The reason they're doing this is because having a bunch of kids who don't speak English in one place will lead to the school being designated as "failing" under the No Child Left Behind act, which will do who knows what to property taxes etc.

Obviously the right thing to do is to say "fuck the No Child Left Behind Act, these kids need to be educated." Then they could get their state legislature to tweak the act for NYC. There are 26,000 of these kids, and that isn't unreasonable.

Hopefully, that will lead to a review of the No Child Left Behind Act, which as any child knows is designed to cut funding for public schools so that the federal government has more money to spend on things that will lead to the economic enrichment of President Bush, his family, and their asshole friends.

Quotes of the year

"Link

  • "I think the President should look across the country and find the most qualified man, woman, or minority."
    - Senator Trent Lott, on Bush's potential Supreme Court nominee

  • "I think with a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court, you can't play, you know, hide the salami, or whatever it's called."
    -Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean, urging President Bush to make public Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers's White House records

  • "You work three jobs? … Uniquely American, isn't it? I mean, that is fantastic that you're doing that."
    - President Bush, to a divorced mother of three in Omaha, Nebraska

  • "When a virgin screams your name, you know you've made it."
    - Kelly Clarkson, on being asked whether it was the ultimate validation when Steve Carell screamed "AhhhhhhhKellyClarkson!"

December 29, 2005

2005: The Year of Political Film-making



Crash. Syriana. Munich. Good Night and Good Luck. Paradise Now. The Constant Gardener. The Corporation.

Add in Brokeback Mountain, Jarhead, and A History of Violence and you have not only a half-way decent top ten list, but you also have a slew of films that rely on political tensions, current events, or contemporary sociological paradoxes and problems for their impact. Compared to the "best" films of last year (Sideways, The Aviator, Before Sunset, Eternal Sunshine, Closer, Bad Education, Kill Bill, House of Flying Daggers/Hero, Ray), this year has seen a much greater focus on engagement with contemporary social issues, and not in a very covert way.

True, last year had Million Dollar Piece of Shit Baby, Maria Full of Grace, Moolaade, and Vera Drake, all of which fit in with this sociopolitically-engaged zeitgeist, but this year is still pretty notable for the number of films that try to have a political message or valence.

I find this interesting because it is conventional wisdom that people prefer escapist fantasies when the news is all too real and all too intrusive. I mean, think of all the spectacularly dégagé films made during the Great Depression and WWII—It Happened One Night, The Thin Man, His Girl Friday, The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Wizard of Oz, Gone With the Wind, The Maltese Falcon, all the MGM musicals—they are at least what the era is remembered for—the glamour and glitz. This year's films, and last year's as well for the most part, trade grit for glitz almost as a convention.

Is this the overheated but half-baked work of liberal activist filmmakers, then? But why are the critics praising these politicized products from such puerile pundits? And it's not like Crash didn't do well commercially, and all the others that have gotten wide release have done respectably. Is it simply because so many of the big-budget films of the past few years have been so bad that we have convinced ourselves that if a film has a politically relevant message, it's more worth our time?

I think it's also interesting that so many seemingly innocuous films get politicized or latched onto by an interest group so quickly today—March of the Penguins or Chronicles of Narnia, for instance. What's going on with our society when we see penguins as an argument against same-sex marriage and for "family values"?

I guess I should be happy somehow that our society is so conscious of these issues. I mean, "consciousness-raising" is essentially the blogger's mission, and one I heartily subscribe to. And the issues brought out in this year's movies definitely deserve our attention and our movie screens. But something about this all makes me a little uneasy.

Maybe it's my being in Indiana, where overwhelming homogeneity makes so many potentially divisive questions seem unimportant next to the need for unity and strong communities. In some ways, to a lot of America these films about politics seem as distant and unrelated to everyday life as films noir or special effects extravaganzas or musicals. Crash simply plays differently in Nebraska or rural Illinois than it does in LA or NY or DC. How do we deal with this, and why are we dealing with it in film?

Intelligent Energy Theory?

I found something interesting on Bill O'Reilly's website today. If you notice on this quiz, question 4 states that the 'c' in E = mc^2 represents the speed of sound. I'm sure Mr. O'Reilly did not create this quiz, that would be giving the gentleman too much credit. That aside, are we to take this gross lapse in basic knowledge of relativistic phyics and/or proof reading as a prelude to an imminent war on physics as well? Probably not, but it's difficult to put anything past Mr. O'Reilly.

December 27, 2005

Striking Resemblance, my ass

Dateline Nashville: Thief robs pastry store of prized possession: a cinnamon bun bearing a striking resemblance to the soon-to-be-canonized Mother Teresa.



Link

To tell you the truth, I think it looks more like that crazy tree spirit/hag from Pocahontas.

Did I just let on that I've seen Pocahontas? Shit.

New Year's Resolution

So when I was doing high school debate I learned two things:
1) Robert H. Bork is hilarious.
2) An argument consists of a claim, a warrant, and an impact. A claim is just an assertion. A warrant is a causal link which demonstrates, using known principles and inference, that the claim is true. An impact should be self-explanatory. It's the part that answers the question "so what?"

While I was reading Franken's book I realized that to have any effect on the American public generally the lefties, and specifically the lefty bloggers, are going to have to do a much better job with impacts. All too often we assume the "so what" part to be self-explanatory, when a bunch of people feel that it isn't.

For example, I believe that literally every action taken by the Bush administration can be directly traced to the end of economically enriching Bush, his family, and their asshole friends. So if I were to write about social security, I will no longer write something like this:

"It is clearly documented that the aim of Bush's privatization program, in keeping with the ideology held by the Cato institute, Americans for Tax Reform, and other backers of the plan, is to dismantle social security."

I always assumed that "dismantle social security" was bad enough. What I will do is take it a step further and say:

"It should be obvious at this point that the individuals who stand to gain the most from the removal of the primary social safety net against the ravages of unchecked capitalism are wealthy pricks like Mr. Bush, his family, and their asshole friends."

It is my further contention that this logic chain, from any administration action to the concurrent enrichment of Bush/family/asshole friends will consist of no more than six degrees of causality. Kevin Bacon can eat a dick. This shit is important.

I am going to play this one note until you motherfuckers get it. I am going to hammer it over and over until it's in your head like Kylie Minogue. This shall be my one-man stand against assholery. It will be glorious! Yes! 2006!

"You! Vermin woman! Who did you vote for? Did you even vote? Do you even have thumbs?

Show me your thumbs!"

Book Review: The Sea



John Banville's novel The Sea won this year's Man Booker Prize, so I felt it was somehow required of me that I read it. I'm intensely glad I did.

The Sea, unfortunately, is nearly unreviewable in that its even elegance and grace repels the highlighting of any particular aspect as especially good or even especially noticeable. Not everyone liked it (NYT's Michiko Kakutani called it "stilted, claustrophobic and numbingly pretentious," but I think she's just projecting her own character traits), but they are probably the same people that find Nabokov tiresome and Eliot cold—in other words, people who probably shouldn't be spoken with.

Seriously, though, it is a fine novel. It works not so much because of the plot—a book with similar tone and theme but far better plot can be found in Coetzee's Disgrace—but for the absolute gloriousness of the prose. It is a book you must read with deliberation and a little bit of diligence to really appreciate the fineness of each sentence and turn of phrase. Banville's plot occasionally drifts into melodrama or plot twists that mostly stand dead still, but every sentence is crafted as if he spent a week perfecting it. Some see this as a major flaw, but goddammit, few writers today can summon a command of language like Banville's, and I feel he should be read just for that.

However, there are moments of raw poignancy, and it is a strange gift that the cool eloquence of the prose can also bear such strong and powerful emotional immediacy. I spent a week in a bad mood because of the novel's intensity and depth. Banville's narrator, Max Morden (a particularly apposite surname—Max is sublimely mordant), has retreated to the sea-side resort he frequented as a child to mourn the death of his wife. So complete and totalizing is the subtlety of Max's coping that I could not help but be caught up in his mental acts of "quiet desperation." Max attempts to make his life into a crude simulacrum of Alfred Prufrock—measuring his life out in coffee spoonfuls and forcing himself into indecisions and revisions, both in his narration and his actions.

Max veers suddenly from the present and near past to a childhood past when he met a family with whom he became curiously entangled. It is an old story, but Banville keeps it interesting with the exactness of his characterizations. The oscillations between his reflections on his wife's death and the more narrative passages depicting his childhood aren't, I believe, meant to exist in tandem—if there is order, it is simply the spontaneous progressions of an ordered mind. I don't feel that these recollections accrete, building one upon the other, and if they are supposed to do so, I think Banville failed. They are nevertheless powerful, taken singularly. I appreciated the novel not because of any internal connections or plot, but because it is simply a bold and moving, lyrical tone poem. It is not orchestrated as a novel, but as a musical composition—a sonata perhaps. And it succeeds wildly in that capacity.

December 26, 2005

Glabe/Franken

My brother got a copy of Al Franken's new book for Christmas and I'm reading it before I head out to Cali-fo-nie-ay. I thought this was interesting (from p257, referencing the "Brat Pack" of young contractor overseers hired by Bremer to replace the guys who left with Jay Garner):

"Among the new hires were Casey Wasson, twenty-three, a recent college grad who needed a job... Scott Erwin, twenty-one, a former intern for Dick Cheney and Tom Delay, who didn't need a job because he was still in college... Erwin soon landed a gig as the top Coalition Provisional Authority official managing the finances of Iraq's civilian forces- fire units, customs, border patrols, and police. What a great job! Almost as much fun as his previous job, which he told the Richmond Times-Dispatch was "my time as an ice-cream truck driver."

"Erwin was one of the six youngsters given control of Iraq's $13 Billion budget. 'The Brat Pack,' as they inevitably came to be known, were understandably startled to find themselves with awesome new jobs in Baghdad, especially since they hadn't applied for them. Each had recieved an unsolicited e-mail from the Pentagon inviting them to join in the liberation effort. After comparing noted, the twenty-somethings realized the one thing they all had in common. They had all sent their resumes to the notoriously unreliable Heritage Foundation."

Wait a second. Glabe is in college, and he was in college when Bremer took power. Glabe worked for the Heritage Foundation, but I'm not sure when. Thus the obvious question is raised: Why wasn't Glabe called?

One theory, and this is unconfirmed, posits that Glabe, beyond simply being a stupid asshole, is in fact such a stupid asshole that he was unable to convince even the Heritage Foundation of his worth as a partisan agent. God, I hate that guy.

Not that you asked, but overall the book is pretty good, although the "self-calls" about authorial narcissism don't make the narcissism any less irritating.

In other news, I introduced myself to Michael Ellis a couple weeks back when he returned some CDs to the music library, where I work. He was kind of put off once I told him who I was and he said something about looking forward to seeing me slander him in print or some bullshit. I laughed and said something quippy but what I should have said was "Ha, ha, you are such a huge dork." Have you seen this guy? Hilarious.

December 25, 2005

December 24, 2005

Syriana


The reviews of Syriana show, I think, how little film critics read. If you are used to reading novels (other than those written by someone named Clancy, Grisham, Ludlum or Cussler), you will probably not have a problem watching this film and keeping up.

Sure, Syriana covers an ambitious bit of ground, and its plot is complex and takes awhile to congeal. Sure, you may still not know at the end who all the people work for or even are. But that's not a bug, that's a feature. Syriana makes a statement about the limits of individual action on a global scale through this confusion of characters and about the bidirectional nature of nearly all action, period, through the confusion about who's working for whom. This is about as Foucauldian a film as you'll ever see.

Almost all performances are topnotch because everyone just plays their part. They don't try to steal the show or overact or emote or anything. Gaghan (the director) creates a marvelous character in Nasir Al-Subaai, the would-be reformer prince. The exchange, brief as it is, between Nasir and Matt Damon's character (Bryan Woodman) is illuminating not so much because it proves anything but because it shines a light into the dimness of possibility. It is possible that what Syriana suggests is going on, but I do not feel that Syriana is a polemical film, and I was more than prepared to believe it was. Syriana goes out of its way to confine itself to global connections on a small-scale (if that makes sense)—it doesn't take potshots at the White House or even at Congress, and its conspiracies do not metastasize as some reviews have said.

One thing that struck me about Syriana was how much of the important content is non-verbal. I think Gaghan's use of images to create some plot points, support others, and suggest still others is masterful. You must be perceptive and attentive, but I think a lot is there in every shot that exceeds the dialogue by a long shot.

Syriana is probably a film that will only grow on me, and in a positive way, but it is already cemented in my top 5 for the year.

December 23, 2005

Fuck You, Johnny Damon



Here's to hoping all your hair falls out.

Top 10 Under-covered stories

Foreign Policy has a list of the top 10 stories that "fell through the cracks" amidst tsunamis, hurricanes, and BradJenAngelinaVince sagas.

Most of them aren't really news to me or to people who read blogs very frequently, but I suppose it's good nevertheless to highlight what America may be missing out on.

December 22, 2005

More on Posner, Spying

I realize now that I appeared to be a little too zealous in my support of Posner's op-ed in my last post. This was certainly unintentional; I should have expressed more clearly and precisely what I was praising about Posner's argument.

I believe, with Posner, that electronic data-mining presents a different situation concerning privacy than does traditional wire-tapping or other activities of the kind. I believe that we cannot evaluate it solely on the basis of our previous approaches to privacy.

Data mining occurs far more than we probably realize and it will only grow. Wal-Mart has immense databases of our shopping habits and so does Amazon or The Gap or whatever. However, this state of affairs is not univocally bad. It can improve customer service, it can improve production. We must decide whether these benefits are worth re-negotiating our current notion of privacy.

I'm just arguing against a knee-jerk "1984 is here" attitude. Books published in the 1940s and the mentality accompanying them should not be the basis of our thinking or our reactions to contemporary phenomena and issues.

Domestic spying: Posner's take

It's a surprising one, at least to me.
These programs are criticized as grave threats to civil liberties. They are not. Their significance is in flagging the existence of gaps in our defenses against terrorism. The Defense Department is rushing to fill those gaps, though there may be better ways.
Read the rest here.

The power of a good argument: Posner almost single-handedly changes my mind.

The only argument against it is posed by this, the visit of two Homeland Security agents to the home of some student who put Mao's Little Red Book (the official version, mind you) on inter-library loan. Sure it's kinda creepy, but it's also just stupid. Potential terrorists aren't reading the Collected Quotations of Chairman Mao any more than Communists read the Koran. As Posner says, the people behind all this surveillance seem confused about who their targets are or should be. If the system is as benign as Posner believes, then that's fine I guess, but it wastes time, energy, and resources on certain dead ends.

Basically, I guess, I'd feel better if Richard Posner were running the NSA or the FBI or whatever it is that is monitoring my blogging right now.

More: The opposition here and here. The second one is quite a bit better.

December 21, 2005

Kong

I saw King Kong last night. Is it long? Yes, but not in a way that distracts from being awed by some of the set pieces. The brontosaurus stampede, Kong's fight with the T. Rexes, and the truly moving Empire State showdown are all brilliant, and honestly, there are no scenes that I felt should have been unequivocally cut, but there still is a feeling of gluttedness about the film—like a fantastic Thanksgiving dinner, at the end you feel that it was just way too much, but you're not sure what you could have done without.

Joe complains that critics have talked about racial issues in the film. I agree with him that Kong as symbol of big scary black man is probably not one that will hit most viewers, even subliminally, but what about the other end of the cutest mismatch ever—would this film work with a brunette? Or a Latina? Or a black woman? Or an Asian?

In addition, Joe gets really worked up about the criticism that the racial characteristics of the tribesmen in the film are a little disconcerting. I'm not sure if he's actually seen the movie, but they really are. I'm not certain, but I would hazard a guess and say that the actors playing the tribesmen are actually the family members of that feral kid from Mad Max (that kid to the right, only larger), in blackface. I mean, Skull Island is supposed to be near Sumatra or something, and these people more closely resemble a Cecil B. DeMille version of Amos and Andy. That's a little crazy to me. But then again, I'm a bleeding-heart liberal and sensitive to the plight of feral kids in blackface.

Karma

Robber mauled to death by tiger while seeking refuge in cage.

What's kind of weird is that this is the second time in this South African zoo that a fleeing criminal has met the wrath of a zoo animal while trying to escape police forces. A gorilla apparently cornered a thief in his enclosure. As BBC reports it, "Max... bit the hapless intruder on the buttocks and kept him pinned to a wall, despite being hit by two bullets."

December 20, 2005

California Dreamin'

The Economist has a great article about a new front in the Christian vs. knowledge culture wars. A number of Christian schools and students are suing the University of California because it won't acknowledge courses taught primarily from books published by Bob Jones University as meeting admission requirements. The Association of Christian Schools International (ASCI) claims this is viewpoint discrimination and a violation of the right to freedom of speech and religion.

In talking about "view-point discrimination," ASCI and these other Christocrat schools are missing the point. If all that the belief in faith-first, facts-second teaching means to these students is a viewpoint, it should be easy to give it up for the privilege and the opportunity to attend a university. I have a viewpoint about the relative worth of footnotes (as opposed to parenthetical citations), but I would not apply it in a class where footnotes were de rigeur. Is that viewpoint discrimination or abridgment of freedom of expression on the part of the professor who demands footnotes? Hardly.

Or how about this. Say the Ayatollah Khomeini's granddaughter is taking a class about Middle Eastern politics. The professor points to internationally verified facts concerning the brutality of her granddad's regime. "My viewpoint is different," she says, "and therefore valid and you cannot discriminate against it."

But clearly, this California case is not a matter of a viewpoint or of freedom of speech or of thought. It is not a tussle for freedom; it's a crusade for dominance—on both sides. The goal of ASCI is not to become a tolerated exception; the goal is to accomplish a unique and extremely dangerous circumvention of the entire process of disseminating knowledge through education. Unique because I can't think of another example that is similar. Dangerous not because it threatens the foundation of secular education, but because it threatens the foundations of education in general. If provably false "viewpoints" ("worldview" would be a better world) are given as much weight as empirically justified facts, we've lost the motivation to pursue facts and to transmit them through an orderly process. Why even bother learning the theory of general relativity when you might as well learn intelligent falling? Why bother to learn rules of grammar if you believe you can be inspired by the Word of God? I mean, if we can actually train ourselves to hear the voice of God, why should we even listen to an English teacher? If we can trust in the invisible hand of God, who cares about Adam Smith? This pushback is not about providing alternatives to secular theories, but about obviating the need for them.

The Scholastics (Aquinas et al.) depended on reason to justify and articulate their beliefs. The Christocrats depend on their beliefs to justify and articulate a new form of reason. If they really want to wipe out nearly 1000 years of progress toward treating knowledge as a tool to help humanity rather than an optional prejudice against God and his followers, well, then say it. Don't talk about "viewpoint discrimination" or "freedom of speech and thought." Be bold, Christian soldiers, and fight for what you really believe in.

Update: Good news—Dover judge rules out teaching ID in public schools.

December 19, 2005

The Real Chappelle Story

"Dave was haunted by a secret. One that only he was aware of, and one he couldn't share with anyone, lest his comedy empire crumble.

He knew that at the same time he was signing his record-setting deal, there was a secret cabal of powerful African-American leaders from the business, political, and entertainment industries working together to ensure that the third season of Chappelle's Show would never happen.

At one time or another, each member of this loosely knit, informal group had played a key role in Chappelle's rise to stardom.

They had been instrumental in securing movie and television roles, offering counsel, and simply aiding Chappelle financially when his stand up work couldn't pay the bills during his lean early years.

Over the last two years, they had watched warily as Chappelle's Show had become Comedy Central's premiere show, eclipsing even South Park and The Daily Show in terms of buzz.

It was reported that they had voiced their concerns about Chappelle's Show to Dave many times over those two years, showing their displeasure with the direction that the show was taking. However, their actions could not steer Dave away from the comedy that was most natural to him.

Collectively, they felt Chappelle's Show reinforced negative stereotypes about African Americans, and that its content was, in the words of group leader Bill Cosby, "setting race relations back 50 years."

The $50 million deal that Chappelle signed was the straw that broke the camel's back. The group — informally known as "The Dark Crusaders" — knew that a deal of this magnitude would guarantee increased attention for the third season of Chappelle's Show, not to mention sending his already robust DVD sales through the roof.

In what was an attempt to ensure that this would not happen, the group was seen holding a closed-door meeting at the Omni Hotel in Atlanta's affluent Buckhead neighborhood over the weekend of August 7th.

During that weekend meeting, recovered documents by the hotel's staff revealed that they finalized a comprehensive five point plan to bring an end to what some of the members had termed the "Chappelle Problem".

This complex, well funded, and well thought out plan was to employ a "by any means necessary" approach to ensure that the 3rd season of the Chappelle's Show would never air on Comedy Central.

What follows is the story of the events that led up to, and ultimately were responsible for Dave Chappelle's fall from grace."

Read all the ridiculousness here.

December 18, 2005

Speaking of relativism

Iran president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's foreign minister has said that his views on the Holocaust are "a matter for academic discussion and the West should be more tolerant of his views."

Now, I buy into a lot of post-structuralism's theories about the nature of truth and knowledge, and I believe they are for the most part a better way of thinking about enormously complex functions such as dialogue and belief-acquisition, but this idea that the Holocaust is a matter for academic debate or discussion and that we in the West should be open to listening to alternative views of the event is just plain bullshit.

A belief is merely a means of expressing, to oneself or to others, that one is prepared to take a course of action that will attempt to justify that belief, and to do so consistently.

If I say that I believe Heineken is a better beer than Sam Adams, I am really just saying that I plan to justify that statement in some way—through an argument, through buying you a beer to prove it, through physical force, or through ridiculing you until you agree with me or walk away, or at least until I feel that I have justified my belief. And I am prepared to do that at each instance where I feel I have a need to justify my belief.

Because beliefs are so intimately related to action, some beliefs are not acceptable and they are not to be tolerated. Some actions are unambiguously harmful to others, and the beliefs that are connected to them should not be given distinction as "alternative views" or "academic matters" or "open to interpretation."

Ahmadinejad clearly has an ideal course of action attached to his views of the Holocaust, which are, basically, that it is a lie used to allow Jews a(n unjustified) place in the Middle East. He has said that Israel should be removed to Alaska or Germany or, as he said earlier this year, should be wiped off the map entirely. He is actively acquiring nuclear capability. Ahmadinejad's beliefs about the Holocaust are not floating in some academic ether, unconnected to real and dangerous activities.

Beliefs are habits of thinking which are potential habits of action. Some actions should not be performed. It's just that simple.

No Greater Responsibility

As president, I took an oath to defend the Constitution, and I have no greater responsibility than to protect our people, our freedom, and our way of life.
(full text here)

Nice try, George. No need to mention that this single sentence shows exactly what the problem is:

"to defend the Constitution"

vs.

"I have no greater responsibility"

Bush prefaces his own profession of faith in himself and his unlimited powers with the exact phrase that should check those powers and that faith. The Constitution exists, in case you forgot, to prevent presidents (or anyone else, for that matter) from placing their own opinions of America's safety above, well, the opinions of our Founding Fathers as to what will protect Americans truly and really. Sure, they're still opinions, but we use them for a reason, and they have had over 200 years of review and testing grounded on experience. Not all opinions of America's safety are equal, and we as a nation have made a decision, and lived by that decision, to set the opinions of our Founding Fathers as central to our government, our philosophy, and our political procedures.

And conservatives complain about liberals being relativists.

December 16, 2005

Liberal Bias in the Media, Big Suprise?

In a recent study, UCLA researchers Groseclose and Milyo claim that there is a liberal bias in media outlets. They devise an interesting method to calculate the political bias of news sources. The following is from their paper published in the November issue of the Quarterly Journal of Economics*:

We measure media bias by estimating ideological scores for several major media outlets. To compute this, we count the times that a particular media outlet cites various think tanks and policy groups, and then compare this with the times that members of Congress cite the same groups. Our results show a strong liberal bias: all of the news outlets we examine, except Fox News’ Special Report and the Washington Times, received scores to the left of the average member of Congress.

Using the above described methodology the researchers find the score of the average Senator to be 50.1, where 100 is most liberal. With this same scoring system, 4 0f the top 5 most liberal news sources are the usual suspects: The New York Times, CBS Evening News, The Los Angeles Times, and The Washington Post. One relatively surprising finding is that of the 20 major news outlets they studied, the Wall Street Journal is the most liberal with a score of 85.1.**

The most obvious criticism of their finding a liberal bias using this methodology (albeit probably not the strongest) is that perhaps news outlets cite liberal think tanks more often because they produce more relevant, and/or useful research. This might explain why the respected journalists at the WSJ have such a "liberal" bias.


*
If you would like a copy of the 47 page paper, please email me. I can't publish it on the blog due to copyright issues.

** It must be noted that it is apparently a well-known fact in many circles that the news and the OPED departments at the WSJ are polar opposites.

Ben? Ben? Anyone? Ben? Sanity? Senescence? Hawley-Smoot Tariff?

Ben Stein used to be one of my favorite people in the world when he was hosting "Win Ben Stein's Money" and trying to look like he was only narrowly kicking everyone's asses.

Then I found out he was a speech writer for Nixon.

But this, this, omg how could you Ben? How could you be so daft?
"I think Mr. Bush is going to go down in history as one of the great peacemakers and democracy-builders in the history of the world."
Also a sign of Stein's diminishing mental acuity, speaking of the inevitability of the Dow reaching 11,000: "We didn't quite see it today, but it's sort of like Waiting for Godot. Eventually it will happen."

Beckett as a source for economic optimism. Hmmm.

Bush Election Chairman off to Prison

I'm a little rusty with this whole blogging thing, but I figure this is just a good a story as any to dive back in. We all know that the GOP was up to some suspect antics in the 2000 and 2004 elections, and now we can conclusively add the 2002 elections to that list of interferences in domestic democracy by those who wish to spread it abroad.
The Boston Globe has the long version, but here's a quicker read:

"A former top Republican Party official was convicted on telephone harassment charges Thursday for his part in a plot to jam the Democrats' phones on Election Day 2002. The federal jury acquitted James Tobin of the most serious charge against him, of conspiring to violate voters' rights. Tobin, 45, of Bangor, Maine, was President Bush's New England campaign chairman last year. He could get up seven years in prison and $500,000 in fines when he is sentenced in March.
For nearly two hours on Election Day 2002, hundreds of hang-up calls overwhelmed Democratic get-out-the-vote phone banks in New Hampshire and a ride-to-the-polls line run by Manchester's firefighters union. Tobin, who at the time was New England chairman of Bush's re-election campaign and a top regional official of the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, was accused of orchestrating the phone-jamming.
The former executive director of the New Hampshire GOP, Chuck McGee, who admitted coming up with the idea, served a seven-month sentence for conspiracy."

Just when I thought it couldn't get worse

O'Reilly opens his big mouth again:
[W]e also have a very provocative segment, why aren't the prelates of the Catholic Church in America, the cardinals and the archbishops standing up for Christmas? Why? There's only one who will talk to us, Sheehan out in New Mexico. Archbishop Sheehan. Where are the others? Where are they? If you don't stick up for the baby Jesus, who are you going to stick up for?

Now, they were MIA in the priest/pedophilia scandals. Now, they're MIA in the Christmas controversy. What the heck's going on with them? So we're going to do that, and I'll probably get excommunicated again. How many times can you get excommunicated? No, I haven't been excommunicated, not that I know of.
In Bill O'Reilly's head:

|War on Christmas| = |pedophilia scandal|

For him, Catholic disregard for his remarkably baseless, ill-founded and hypocritical little crusade is not only as newsworthy but also as wrong as refusing to address publicly the faults and mistakes of decades (if not centuries) of child abuse.

Wow.


December 15, 2005

"For the man who has everything"

For her 17th wedding anniversay Jeanette Yarborough wanted to do something special for her husband. In addition to planning a hotel getaway for the weekend, Ms. Yarborough paid a surgeon $5,000 to reattach her hymen, making her appear to be a virgin again.

"It's the ultimate gift for the man who has everything," says Ms. Yarborough...
This really doesn't help me out with my Christmas shopping.

More at Pandagon.

Hump My Tunnel

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the Black-Eyed Peas song "My Humps" may just be the worst accumulation of sound waves ever produced by man, woman, beast, or machine.

"Sonic catastrophe" doesn't begin to describe how bad the song is. Neither does the old standby, "piece of shit." The word "pain" works moderately well. "Aural crucifixion" may be even better still.

Who can save the world from the incarnate audio evil that is "My Humps?" The Arcade Fire, that's who.

"My Humps"
+
Arcade Fire's "Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)"
=
"Hump My Tunnel"


Oh, it's good. It's very, very good.

Princeton: Utterly Impotent, Feckless

Princeton tied the record for fewest points scored in a Division I NCAA basketball game (since the 3-point line) with 21. That's not many.

I went to a Catholic middle school and played guard on the team. We were so bad, our coach said the rosary on the sidelines in hopes that we wouldn't cause the Virgin Mary to revoke our school's charter based on our basketball suckitude. (The BVM is a huge Celtics fan, by the way.)

We scored, on average, 24 points a game.

Hats off to Ford

(from DailyKos)

Reversing their craven cave-in to rabidly anti-gay group American Family Association, Ford has pledged to do the following:
  • "[To c]ontinue to support gay organizations and gay events in the coming year and beyond.

  • [T]o run advertisements in the gay media NOT ONLY promoting the Jaguar and Land Rover brands, but the ads will promote ALL of Fords brands, by name, including Jaguar and Land Rover.

  • states unequivocally that it will continue to tailor its ads for the specific audience it is trying to reach, and then goes one step further. Ford challenges us to keep an eye out on their upcoming ads in order to verify that they will in fact be tailored."
As DailyKos points out, this is much bigger than just getting Ford to put ads in The Advocate; this sends a clear message that companies face far greater fire by caving to nutjob outfits like the AFA than they do from any threatened boycotts.

I'm incredibly gladdened by this news. I think Ford's decision represents a huge shift from seeing the gay community as a tiny and powerless minority that can be trampled on with impunity to being a solid part of the American fabric and one that many people are unwilling to see so viciously set apart and excluded from the American community. This is not about the gay community triumphing over the evangelical community or something, though this will likely be used as evidence that "the gays have themselves an agenda." What this is is the sign that one interest group can't get away with bullying a minority they don't like through the market.

I think a lot of America's ideals about equality are driven by economic thinking and principles—the principle of home ownership and the (fictitious) ownership society, for instance. That Ford feels America is now including gays in those economic principles of equality means that an important step has been taken in establishing other, more important forms of equality.

December 14, 2005

If you get raped, don't go to a Catholic hospital

I apologize for the bluntness of my title, but this is just enraging.
The Catholic Action League of Massachusetts is urging the state's Roman Catholic hospitals to defy the state's new emergency contraception law[...]
The law requires hospitals to offer the morning-after pill to rape victims[...]
"The appropriate response for Catholic hospitals is noncompliance," Doyle said. "Otherwise, they would be compromising their religious integrity and Catholic identity."
I am Catholic and vaguely pro-Life (I have numerous reservations about the movement and the philosophy), but this is plain wrong. Unless the Catholic Church plans on personally raising or personally assisting in finding each non-aborted child a home, this policy is ethically irresponsible.

This is not a matter of the broad moral dimensions of the abortion question, it's about giving women who have just been raped a choice to determine their own moral path.

Catholics believe God gave us free will; why should we, who are supposed to emulate God, not do the same? No, apparently that would be compromising our Catholic identity. The suffering of a compromised human being? Nothing compared to keeping our Catholic identity uncompromised.

Perhaps some have forgotten, but Christianity is about compassion, not control.

(via feministing)

Edit: The difference between liberal and conservative Christians: It's a matter of "priorities."

You learn something every day

Joe takes me to school on the meaning of "circular area probable" by providing a link that explains the term. "Circular area probable" is the phrase I made fun of him for here. I added an edit to my post expressing my feelings on the matter.

Joe provides important updates on a lot of Dartmouth issues, and a lot of people read him for that reason. That makes it really annoying that we have to wade through turgid prose whenever Joe wants to wax eloquent. There is simply no reason to do things like call watching television "go[ing] cathode ray tubing," for instance.

I just want to be able to read a blog without feeling like I need to eat a copy of Strunk and White's in order to purge my system of phrases like "vasty circular area probable." Joe, please, help me help you. Help me help you.

Hi, I'm Mr. Hetero. Can I buy you a drink?

We're Taking It Back: a contest to find the straightest man in Massachussetts. Says organizer Tom Crouse, "We’re just looking for tolerance for heterosexuals."

Contests will include: "how many Oprah magazines you can tear at once and a sixty second dissertation on the uses of duct tape." And there's merchandise:



(from Pandagon)

Iraq numbers

From Huffington Post

$204.4 billion: The cost to the U.S of the war so far.

2,339: Allied troops killed

15,955: US troops wounded in action

98: U.K troops killed

30,000 : Estimated Iraqi civilian deaths

0: Number of WMDs found

66: Journalists killed in Iraq.

63: Journalists killed during Vietnam war

8: per cent of Iraqi children suffering acute malnutrition

53,470: Iraqi insurgents killed

67: per cent Iraqis who feel less secure because of occupation

$343: Average monthly salary for an Iraqi soldier. Average monthly salary for an American soldier in Iraq: $4,160.75

5: foreign civilians kidnapped per month

December 13, 2005

A brilliant lead paragraph

The AP tells us:
The cowboys-in-love drama "Brokeback Mountain" received a leading seven Golden Globes nominations, yet the critical favorite has an uphill trail for the Academy Awards, where a gay-themed film has never won top honors.
Yes, and there have been so many in contention in years past...

I mean, The Hours, Kiss of the Spider Woman and The Crying Game are about as close as we've ever gotten; Dog Day Afternoon and Midnight Cowboy danced right around the issue; cross-dressing comedies like Tootsie and Some Like It Hot hardly count. There aren't really even any films I can joke about having gay undertones. Well, if Brokeback does win, it's about damn time.


Does hostility to atheists exist?

Eugene and the Volokhs, as Hit and Run has taken to calling them, have a great string of stats-filled posts detailing the extent to which Americans seriously have a problem with atheism.

For instance, just 26% of the respondents in one Fox News poll said they'd consider voting for "for a political candidate who doesn't believe in God." As Professor Volokh points out, were any other group in that slot, people would be seriously worried about America's commitment to understanding and tolerance. Yet most people would be quick to defend this sentiment, and at most, would barely blink an eye.

Me Speak English Good

Introducing the Plain English Awards, celebrating all those entities (both persons and institutions) who have failed spectacularly in communicating clearly over the past year.

Since the awards are given by Englishmen, the premio gordo naturally went to a Welshman, First Minister Rhodri Morgan. His winning quote: "The only thing which isn’t up for grabs is no change and I think it’s fair to say it’s all to play for, except for no change."

I'll give my own Rhodri Morgan Award to Joe Malchow for the following sentence, taken from one of last night's posts:
The general oddity of Vermont affects a vasty circular area probable.
Even more offensive is the title of the post: "On Saccharine Wings of Cuteness."

Edit: Joe updates his page with a link to the definition of "circular area probable." Cool, it's a phrase. Now how about vasty? American Heritage Dictionary has an entry for it, but it is labelled "archaic." In fact, it's an archaic term that actually has a well-known, very common and much more pleasant-sounding equivalent—vast. And "circular area probable" is simply a bit of military jargon that is so commonly employed, Joe's usage is actually the seventh result in a Google search for the term. In fact, on the entire Internet, there is a grand total of 47 results for the term. Now, hats off to Joe for knowing it, but why the hell should we?

Colin Farrell Treated for Bad Hair

Link




December 12, 2005

Screw Christmas

Let's all celebrate Newtonmas!



Iesus Nazarenvs = Isaac Newton

Redemption Song

What does it take to get a man off Death Row?

Tookie Williams had probably the best case for a true in-jail turnaround of any inmate, ever. His crimes were unspeakably brutal and unconscionable, true, but few criminals have campaigned as steadily and as importantly as Williams to erase their past deeds and prevent others from repeating them.

This is all in addition to the fact that capital punishement is both ineffectual and immoral regardless of the morality of killing itself.



Edit: More here.

Hillary & the Granite State

This is not a great article, but it gives some good analysis on Hillary's relationship to New Hampshire and offers some reasons why she hasn't been there since 1996. She even avoided travelling through NH on the way to Boston from Portsmouth early this year.

However, some polls taken suggest she is well in the lead among other Presidential hopefuls.


The Rest of the Story

PowerLine highlights a massive turnaround in the Sunnis' attitudes toward voting in this election. While they in large part boycotted the last election, now Sunni clerics are urging their congregations to vote.

Quoting from an AP story, "In a move unthinkable in the bloody run-up to the last election, guerrillas in the western insurgent heartland of Anbar province say they are even prepared to protect voting stations from fighters loyal to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of al Qaeda in Iraq."

PowerLine points out that nearly everyone right now is distancing themselves from Zarqawi as his actions seem designed to keep America in Iraq longer, and Iraqis by and large want America out.

Given that our departure, even if Zarqawi is neutralized by our forces or Iraqi forces, will quite possibly result in a commencement of internecine war and score-settling, this Sunni development isn't wholly good. These people aren't voting just to please America. They're voting for political power to further their own agenda. PowerLine dismisses the notion that a Sunni cleric calling Zarqawi an "American, Israeli and Iranian agent" is being serious, calling it instead a "ritual reference." Rituals have meaning, John Hindrocket. While I'm not positing that the claim has veracity, Sunnis may feel strongly that Zarqawi has a connection to America, and it certainly shows that anti-American feeling is unabated.

Finally, I hate to be this partisan, but I think it's an important point given the partisan spin this type of development will likely get—even if this is hugely successful and leads to peace, it is impossible to believe this kind of thing was all part of Bush's master plan. Bush has demonstrably misunderstood the dynamics of the conflict so far, and it seems that any breakthroughs will be in spite of, rather than because of, the US's efforts.

I hate to be downcast because this sounds like an overall positive development, but I really don't think we're even close to a stable Iraq, unless a "stable Iraq" simply means an Iraq we can get oil out of. Even then...

Edit: Juan Cole offers some perspective. Also this.

December 11, 2005

NH—No longer the primary primary?

Here.

Book Report

In case any of you are trying to figure out what to read over the holiday or thinking of buying a book for a gift, I posted a review of Zadie Smith's On Beauty over at Vox in Sox. This review ran in the fall issue of the Dartmouth Contemporary, which, unfortunately, is not online.

I had very mixed feelings about Smith's book. Like a lot of recent acclaimed fiction (e.g. Jonathon Safran Foer and Dave Eggers), it's brilliant but not all that moving. Memorable as hell, but I don't think it can touch a reader in the way Nabokov or Faulkner can. It's definitely not that there isn't substance—there is remarkable substance, but the effect is not as visceral, I suppose. Anyway, read the review if you're interested in Zadie Smith or books or whatever.

Has anyone read the Banville novel that won the Booker or Marilynne Robinson's Gilead? I really want to read those.

Prom is cancelled: crazy telekinetic girl blamed

A rather bland report in the NYT on a curious phenomenon: banning prom.

Two Catholic high schools on Long Island have taken the oh so excessive step of cancelling all prom activities this year due to the atmosphere of sex, alcohol and materialism that prom affords.

Well, I have a few other suggestions for some things that should also be cancelled if we want to uproot sex, alcohol and materialism totally.

First, let's get rid of athletics. I think it's safe to say that athletes get most of the ass in high school, and if they don't, the rest of the school assumes it's so. Also, athletics and drinking go together in high school like Texas and gaybashing. So let's just dump all the basketball arenas, all the football stadiums, and, oh yeah, the cheerleaders.

Second of all, no high school bands (not of the marching variety, who won't have a purpose anyway when they no longer have sporting events to play "Go Big Red" at and don't know what sex is any way). What ass athletes don't get, whiny emo boys with guitars do. So let's ban all battles of the bands, all dark-rimmed glasses, and all vintage tshirts while we're at it. In fact, let's just ban music. And don't forget rap. Please, don't forget rap. It makes you want to have sex ALL THE TIME.

Thirdly, let's ban cars. Cars are the great facilitators in high school—not only are they a common hook-up spot (at least in Indiana), but they also take you to other hooking-up spots. And they provide a way for people to show off their materialism. And they are sometimes used to hide in while an older friend runs into the liquor store and gets a 24-pack of bad beer and some Boone's (well, that's what we get in Indiana—we're cheap like that; I assume in Long Island, they're buying Hennessy).

Fourthly, let's outlaw high schoolers eating at restaurants, because eating at a restaurant with a person of the opposite sex (or the same one, though not in Indiana) can possibly lead to sex at some point, in some fashion. Or it can lead at least one of the people on the date to think about sex, which is almost as bad. In fact, it's worse, because you'll probably be doing worse things in your mind than anything you ever actually get to do in high school.

While we're on the subject of restaurants, we may as well throw in cinemas, movies in general, and couches. No fucking couches will mean no fucking on couches. Brilliant.

Actually, why stop there? High school is the entire grounds for this entire materialistic, sex-crazed, alcohol-sodden culture! Why not just home-school everyone and only allow them out after 18, when they can go to college and get felt up by frat boys or eventually become a frat boy and feel someone up!

But why stop there? Is college really necessary? I mean come on. Kids under twenty-five can't make decisions properly and people over twenty-five always do. And people over twenty-five never have sexually-related problems or problems with alcohol or materialism or couches. People over twenty-five buy their coaches at IKEA. Are you going to grope your girlfriend on an IKEA couch? Likely not. I'd be ashamed.

So in the interest of keeping our teenagers as pure as adults, I suggest we ban adolescence entirely. Let's make the world one giant chastity belt and one huge monument to the sobriety and clear thinking of adulthood. Because, you know, adults always know best. They always do best. And prom is just one night, so give it up, bitches!

December 10, 2005

Homosexuality isn't a mental disorder; Homophobia is

Link

Over at Vox in Sox Today

I have two new entries posted over at Vox in Sox. I posted them there because both are a little long and more serious in tone. I realize it's an inconvenience to read one blog only to be directed to another, but that's actually the way all blog posts work any way, so whatever.

The posts are: Bush and Washington have the same first names—let's compare! which is basically an attack on the idea (posted over at PowerLine) that criticism of the Iraq War is as stupid and wrong-headed as the criticism of the Revolutionary War from people who were worried about the fallout of potentially losing to the British.

and

Conservative Blogs vs. Liberal Blogs. There will apparently be an article in Sundays edition of the NYT that proclaims that conservative blogs are more effective than liberal blogs because they stay on message more single-mindedly—in other words, they exist for information, not for discussion. I agree.

All in the eye of the (digital) beholder

A Dartmouth compsci prof, Dan Rockmore is up to some interesting stuff.

He's been designing computer software that basically takes hi-res images of paintings, turns the visual information into quantifiable data, and compares that information with other data sets from other paintings in order to determine authenticity.

This is sure to cause a firestorm in the art history world if it works. So many paintings that are attributed now to a master were probably accomplished (mostly) by their students or workshops. So questions like "how many brushstrokes does Rembrandt have to paint himself to constitute 'a Rembrandt?'" become a lot more problematic and more transparently subjective. It will certainly force people to reexamine the cult of the master artist and perhaps even result in a new criterion for greatness. This could affect the pricing, insurance, and study of art more than anything since, perhaps, Vasari.

First, the damn thing has to work, though.

Is this man a patriot?

Turkish author Orhan Pamuk said the following, "a million Armenians and 30,000 Kurds were killed in these lands and no one but me dares to talk about it" and is now on trial for "publicly denigrating Turkish identity." He has received death threats and faces three years in prison if convicted.

Pamuk's "crime" was to broach a taboo subject—the Turkish actions against the Armenians, which many outside of Turkey label a genocide, a label which Turkey vehemently denies, asserting that the million Armenian deaths were the result of "internecine fighting."

However, it is almost certain that the actions of 1915-1916 constituted a genocide of the Armenians and Turkey's refusal to recognize that puts its application to the EU in a bad light and undermines its ostensible attempts to be the most progressive Arab nation on earth.

I think you know my feelings about the question in the title of this post. It is through people like Orhan Pamuk that anything decent in the world comes about.

See also Harold Pinter's Nobel acceptance speech. The media that have covered it have given it a wash of nutty artist spleen—just one simple writer venting his frustrations at the United States—but it's not that at all. It's a detailed critique of the way the US has operated in nations around the world for the past sixty years and it is based on solid facts, not just anti-American animus. It is measured, precise, and devastating. I urge you to read it.

December 9, 2005

De Gustibus non est disputandum

Or not.

Conservatives (since Pope anyway) simply can't do parody, satire, or anything smacking of subtly intelligent wit.

The Night Before Solstice
by Bill O'Reilly
'Twas the night before Solstice, and all through the land
the ACLU was watching to keep things in hand.
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
while forces kept Christmas out of their heads.

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my bed and heard desperate chatter.
Someone had seen my manger display,
And wailed very loudly - go away, go away.

How could I be so crass, so utterly wrong
So [sic] show the infant Jesus and sing him a song?

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
An ACLU lawyer, looking stern and aloof.
No manger! No caroling! he said with a snort,
And if you don't comply immediately, I'll take you to court!

He was chubby and plump, a right surly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him in spite of myself.
He dallied no more, but went straight to his phone
Lamenting the manger, in a most pitiful moan.

But I in the spirit, said nothing unkind [ha!]
Christmas is forgiveness whatever you find.
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

Christmas will survive, the folks will demand it,
Even if secular lawyers will not understand it.
Then I heard him exclaim, as he drove out of sight,
Happy Solstice to all, and to all a good night!

World Cup Draw

My Scottish friends have alerted me that the World Cup Draw is out now. Here.

Apparently, the USA is considered to be in the worst group—meaning the most well-balanced—Italy, Ghana, and the Czech Republic. However, it's not like the US did particularly well in qualifying, so I don't think anyone should make much of a fuss.

The Cup is in Germany this year, so hopes are high for that side. England got a very high seed and it's sort of touching to see, but my Scottish friends are really pulling for them (as Scotland is not in the tournament). Their sentiments about America? "I hope you feckin' don't make it out of the first round."

Self-reflective conservatism—that's something new

David Brooks's column yesterday (once again, behind the TimesSelect digital curtain) is a fantastic examination of why conservative ideology is losing traction in the war of ideas. I could give you a few reasons myself (One thing, just off the top of my head, is that conservatives aren't fighting a war of ideas any more; the war they're waging, and the one that liberals are guilty of as well, is one of clashing cultures—red state v. blue state, Christianity v. every other person on God's green earth. Those aren't ideas, those are monolithic imaginary constructions.) but Brooks has some real insights.
  • Most of the issues that propelled conservatives to power have been addressed.
    I'm not sure I totally agree with this, and even Brooks goes on to say that some of the key issues that brought conservatives to power have been left at a stand-still—shrinking the government, for example. I think a bigger problem is that conservatives rode in on a bunch of issues that people assumed were simple, but are in fact much more complex. Conservatives used their strong stances on things like war and crime, religion in the public sphere, and fiscal policy to gain power, but we're realizing now that those strong stances have mixed consequences.

  • Conservatism has been semi-absorbed into the Republican Party.
    I think Brooks is being a little coy here. What he means to say is, a lot of "good men" sold out. And it's definitely true, as it is any time a group gains a lot of power quickly.

  • Conservative media success means intellectual flabbiness.
    Brooks means that when cons could only listen to media they assumed was liberal-ridden, they could exercise their mental powers trying to portray everything they read as liberal propaganda. Well, actually, that may be a little bit harsh, but it is a fact that paranoia, in gifted individuals, does exercise the mind.

  • Conservatives have lost their governing philosophy.
    That governing philosophy, for Brooks, was smaller government. But that hasn't just been lost; it's been resoundingly rejected by both Bush and by the evangelical wing—the objective now is not less government, but a broader conception of what gets (explicitly) governed.

  • Conservative Republicans have lost touch with their base.
    Translation: the conservative policies as they've been enacted screw those who vote for them. I think Brooks would say that wasn't the intent of the men who founded modern conservatism, but that's kind of like saying socialism's intentions were always good. If an idea fails big-time, there are probably big problems with it.

  • Conservatives have not effectively addressed the second-generation issues.
    Essentially, the world has changed in ways that have made conservatism's essential propositions inoperable for the most part—the problems we're dealing with now can't be solved by the insights William F. Buckley and Leo Strauss came up with 50 years ago and more. I wouldn't say liberals have a vastly superior understanding of the vastly changed world, but some things on the liberal side—like pluralism—are significantly better than their correspondent conservative philosophical notions.

The major difference, I believe, is that liberals have a better grip on the idea that the world is significantly different from the one that the US dominated post-WWII. We just haven't figured out what those differences exactly are. But give me some time—at least until the end of grad school—and I'll have it pretty well nailed down.

I have to see Syriana

I've heard/read some good reviews, some excellent ones, and a few mediocre ones, but it's honestly, after Brokeback Mountain, the film I'm most excited for this Oscar-season.

Here's an entry on Huffington Post written by the director/screenwriter of Syriana, Stephen Gaghan, who also wrote Traffic. It's a fairly good read.

December 8, 2005

There by the grace of God

This should be taught in schools: Incompetent Design
Evidence:
The thing that perhaps is closest to all of us is our own skeleton, and there are certainly all kinds of stupidity in our design. No self-respecting engineering student would make the kinds of dumb mistakes that are built into us.
All of our pelvises slope forward for convenient knuckle-dragging, like all the other great apes. And the only reason you stand erect is because of this incredible sharp bend at the base of your spine, which is either evolution's way of modifying something or else it's just a design that would flunk a first-year engineering student.
Look at the teeth in your mouth. Basically, most of us have too many teeth for the size of our mouth. Well, is this evolution flattening a mammalian muzzle and jamming it into a face or is it a design that couldn't count accurately above 20?
Look at the bones in your face. They're the same as the other mammals' but they're just squashed and contorted by jamming the jaw into a face with your brain expanding over it, so the potential drainage system in there is so convoluted that no plumber would admit to having done it!
So is this evolution or is this plain stupid design?
Wise forgets that Christians, besides salvation, get the benefits of perfect teeth, wonderful sinus drainage, and perfectly perpendicular pelvises.
(via DailyKos)

Oh, you mean that torture...

Condi debuted a new tack in her efforts to smooth over America's bad behavior to the Europeans.

Instead of categorically denying that America indulges in anything that the administration is willing to label "torture," Condi switches to this argument:
"Will there be abuses of policy? That's entirely possible," Rice said at a NATO news conference. "Just because you're a democracy it doesn't mean that you're perfect."

She offered assurances, however, that any abuses would be investigated and violators punished.
O, so we're going to acknowledge that some Americans have tortured prisoners, but we're going to act like it was all their fault and not the result of directives from higher-ups. In other words, the United States does not torture, but its soldiers sometimes just...forget themselves. The state is perfect, but its servants weak.

Good idea. Except, we know that the administration has some strong connections to the abuses, or else Bush wouldn't be threatening to veto the anti-torture bill.

"O, we don't torture, and we'll discipline those who do, but do we have to have a law that says all that?"

Check it—tomorrow, Condi's message will be something along the lines of, "well, we may have used waterboards, but the victims didn't inhale."

Bleeding Kansas

A professor at the University of Kansas was beaten by two assailants, who cited derisive comments about creationism and intelligent design as their motive for attacking the prof.

Wow.

Okay, the professor made some inappropriate comments—he said in an inter-campus email that a course he planned on teaching in the spring, titled "Special Topics in Religion: Intelligent Design, Creationism and other Religious Mythologies," would be "nice slap in their big fat face."

But, he got the shit kicked out of him for that remark. That's not only excessive, that's downright terrifying. I realize that this action is not indicative of the fundamentalist movement, yadda yadda yadda, but I'll be really interested to hear Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell's stern condemnations of this incident.

Wait, given Robertson's comments about God's plans for Dover, PA, he's probably going to either quietly applaud or silently smile about this one. Give those pagans some good old fashioned Christian lovin'!!

December 7, 2005

Malchow vs. the English Language #442

Malchow is miffed at the selection of the following sentence for Slate's Bushism of the Day:
"Those who enter the country illegally violate the law."—Tucson, Ariz., Nov. 28, 2005
Okay, in case you're not following along at home, the word "illegally" and the predicate "violate the law" are redundant when placed in the same sentence, and sort of silly when they are placed directly next to one another.

Malchow calls this tautology one of Bush's "poignant and most succinct arguments."

Exactly. A statement with virtually no semantic value outside of its own circular logic is a poignant and succinct argument in the mind of a conservative. Thank you, Joe Malchow, for summing up conservative ideology for us.

Malchow vs. the English Language #442

Malchow is miffed at the selection of the following sentence for Slate's Bushism of the Day:
"Those who enter the country illegally violate the law."—Tucson, Ariz., Nov. 28, 2005
Okay, in case you're not following along at home, the word "illegally" and the predicate "violate the law" are redundant when placed in the same sentence, and sort of silly when they are placed directly next to one another.

Malchow calls this tautology one of Bush's "poignant and most succinct arguments."

Exactly. A statement with virtually no semantic value outside of its own circular logic is a poignant and succinct argument in the mind of a conservative. Thank you, Joe Malchow, for summing up conservative ideology for us.

Have You Driven a Ford Lately?



AmericaBlog is doing a great job covering the Ford Motor Company's cowardly cave-in to pressure by the American Family Association, which had threatened to boycott "in protest of what the AFA calls an “enthusiastic” support of the gay rights agenda."

I wasn't planning on buying a Ford this year, but if I were, by God...

This picture is so over-used. I'm sorry.

What's so funny about Quarks, Chromosomes, and Chi-Squares?

Nick Kristof had a great editorial yesterday about America's disturbing lack of real scientific understanding. (The piece is behind the Times Select wall, so if you have access great, you've probably already read it, and if you don't, well, linking to it won't help. Sorry)

He cites a variety of statistics:
  • 1/5 of Americans believe in a geocentric solar system
  • only 2/5 believe in evolution
  • 13% know what a molecule is
  • only about half know for sure that humans didn't live with dinosaurs (which, given that Jurassic Park made $570,020,947 domestically—IMDb—means a hell of a lot of people didn't get the point of the movie)
This data leads me to an important revelation—if only 13% know what a molecule is, we can't just blame this scientific ignorance on the red states.

I'm just kidding, but it is important to realize that scientific ignorance is not just Kansas's problem or Kentucky's problem or the flyover zone's problem. It's a national problem.

Kristof suggests an origin that has little to do with bad teaching or even the anti-intellectualism rampant in America. He thinks that the problem is a cultural arrogance toward science that says, We can get by on the humanities—we don't need to know science because that's what scientists are for; we need to know poetry in order to live with other people.

"There's an even larger challenge than anti-intellectualism. And that's the skewed intellectualism of those who believe that a person can become sophisticated on a diet of poetry, philosophy and history, unleavened by statistics or chromosomes. That's the hubris of the humanities."

Kristof speaks of leavening, but leavening is precisely the view of science he's arguing against—that it's supplemental to the humanities. I would argue that science and math should be the bread itself.

Now excuse me, I have to finish a paper on the georgic elements of Milton's Paradise Regained. But I'm planning on reading some Richard Dawkins this winter, so I'm still cool.

Aslan is Jesus??

I never knew...

Actually, this Salon article argues, pace Christian scholar and learned fairy tale analyst John Goldthwaite, that C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia series (the first of which will be released this weekend as a film) is bad, bad, bad theology.

First, it subscribes to a Manichaean worldview—"the idea that standing opposed to God's good creation is another, separate and equal, or nearly equal, creation given over to evil."

Secondly, it seeks to improve on God's creation by imagining a whole new—and vastly more perfectible—world. It appears that not only do Christians know better than science, but some know better than God!

Thirdly, Lewis believed that his Chronicles of Narnia could do a better job telling Christ's story than the Gospels did. "Lewis wrote that he wanted 'The Chronicles of Narnia' to take the parables of the New Testament and cast them 'into an imaginary world, stripping them of their stained-glass and Sunday School associations,' hoping that this would make them 'appear in their real potency.' "

Of course, arrogance, hubris, and stark dualisms are antithetical to today's American Christianity.

This movie's going to do so poorly at the box office, I'll feel sorry for Aslan. And by poorly, I mean insanely well. And by feeling sorry for Aslan, I mean I feel sorry for America's aesthetic standards. Have you seen the trailer? The computer animation—which is essentially the entire movie—looks like crap.

December 6, 2005

"Hillary '08: She'll Blow You Away!"

Arianna Huffington posts a leaked copy of a very intriguing memo from the Hillary "campaign." It is nothing less than her extra-special Red State Strategy.

Among her more insightful measures is this (comic) gem:
Defense of the Second Amendment Act: HRC [Hillary Rodham Clinton] introduces bill to make possession of a concealed weapon mandatory when voting or getting driver’s license. Have banner (and Ted Nugent) ready for announcement: “Hillary ’08: She’ll blow You Away”. Question: is it legal for HRC to wear a holster and revolver on the floor of the Senate? If so, which plays better: waist, shoulder, or strapped to calf?
Hillary is getting a lot of liberal backlash about her flag-burning amendment, and if she pulls another few tricks like that, she'll find she doesn't have a chance of getting the Dem nom. She simply can't win a Dem primary if she's courting "NASCAR dads" at the same time. On the bright side, she's doing very well as a magnet for conservative vitriol, sort of like a lead blocker in football.

News Flash: Comedy Central = "Secular Central"

Bill O'Reilly, in his crusade to prevent "militant secularists" from de-Christianizing Christmas (better look at the White House, Bill) despite an overwhelming dearth of evidence, has started picking on Jon Stewart and the Daily Show.

Using a clip from last year, O'Reilly claims that Jon Stewart is at the forefront of the war on Christmas that is occurring this year. (that's really being in the avant-garde, no?)
There you go. Jon Stewart, "Secular Central." Oh, I'm sorry, Comedy Central -- and I like Stewart, but we know what he's doing over there. And it's not just Stewart. You know, 90 percent of -- quote/unquote -- "entertainers" are secular progressives. [Laughs] OK, we're up for the fight. We're up for it, man.
The humor of the offending clip ("Christmas: It's the only religious holiday that's also a federal holiday. That way, Christians can go to their services and everyone else can stay home and reflect on the true meaning of separation of church and state.") was, of course, lost on O'Reilly.

Christians—what can you say? They love being the majority, but they just adore being persecuted.

"Hey Dubya, Your Brother's So Fat, He Pulled an Entire Election Out of His Ass"

That's not actually what Fidel Castro said, but he did call Jebby "the fat little brother in Florida" in a speech at the University of Havana. He continued
"Forgive me for using the term 'fat little brother.' It is not a criticism, rather a suggestion that he do some exercises and go on a diet, don't you think? I'm doing this for the gentleman's health."


That's a double chin that would frighten even a hurricane.

And Castro should know about health--he's lived longer than God, at this point.

10 Ways of Looking at a War

A great, comprehensive list of common arguments made for the Iraq War and their well thought out rebuttals from the always-great Salon.com.

A must read, for either side of the debate.

I-Owe-a you nothing, New Hampshire

This weekend, the DNC will be looking to rearrange the whole primary calendar, possibly inserting a few caucuses between Iowa's caucus and New Hampshire's primary.

However, as Huffington Post reports, the DNC may not be able to get its way. IA and NH have, essentially, solidified their position in such a way that it would be fatal to any Presidential candidate to pay less attention to them. (Cf. Wesley Clark last year)

I'm personally in favor of letting NH keep its early primary and not pushing it too far forward, but the lack of diversity in NH is worrisome. However, I'm not sure if NH's results are normally seen as a way of reflecting which candidate has the broadest base, but which candidate runs a good campaign.

Sure, some campaigns will connect better with all the white folks in the Granite State, but its independent identity ("Live Free or Die") means that it rarely will just jump on a bandwagon--you actually have to run hard in NH if you want to win.

December 5, 2005

Wacky Wikis

The New York Times ran an interesting article on Wikipedia yesterday with the following disturbing anecdote:
According to Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, John Seigenthaler Sr. is 78 years old and the former editor of The Tennessean in Nashville. But is that information, or anything else in Mr. Seigenthaler's biography, true?

The question arises because Mr. Seigenthaler recently read about himself on Wikipedia and was shocked to learn that he "was thought to have been directly involved in the Kennedy assassinations of both John and his brother Bobby."
A lot of people are worried about Wikipedia's capacity for spreading misinformation, either by someone acting intentionally, as is likely in this case, or unintentionally. It's certainly a reasonable fear, but a bit excessive. The thing is, even a news source we assume is trustworthy (well, most of us, anyway) like the New York Times can't be held in absolute trust; it has periodic inaccuracies, omissions and large gaps in what is covered.

For instance, the article on Mr. Seigenthaler makes him seem like a pretty unremarkable man--the two things NYT highlights are his age and his involvement with some smallish newspaper. But if you read his Wikipedia biography (which I assume has been fact-checked, probably even by Mr. Seigenthaler himself), you find out that he's possibly one of the most interesting guys you've never heard anything about. You wouldn't know that from the Times.

But the open-source nature of Wikipedia (which is actually a lot less open source than, say, a web of conversation-based gossip) does demand some guidelines. Here's the bare bones of some rules I can think of (and a fuller list is here:

1. Read primarily for the links.

2. Read for general interest.

3. Don't read in order to form a personal view of something. Don't base an opinion of the merits of stem-cell research based on a Wikipedia article, for instance.

4. Read to familiarize yourself with the names and events of a topic you're working on.

5. The "what links here" function on the left-hand sidebar is nice, as is the history of edits.

6. Just because Wikipedia is online does not mean common sense is useless. Use common sense, just like anything else.

It's a Wonderful War...

I'm probably posting too much on this whole "war on Christmas" thing, but it's really pissed me off. Granted, most things Fox News persons do for attention pisses me off, but this has taken it to some new, extreme level.

Not only is Fox News incredibly, unbelievably hypocritical about this whole "happy holidays takes the Christ out of Christmas" bullshit (compare this to this) but this post shows pretty conclusively that this whole "war on Christmas" meme has a long and ignoble history.

Among its targets: Jews, commies, and the UN.

Spread the xenophobia paranoia Christmas cheer, everyone. Buy a Fox News "holiday ornament."

This Is Bullshit

I dunno if you're reading the rap blogs but apparently some war profiteer Military-Industrial guy blew 10 million big ones on a party which was nominally for the purpose of celebrating his daughter's Bat Mitzvah.
I say "nominally" because the headliners were Aerosmith and Tom Petty; Kenny G also made an appearance. No 13-year-old wants to see that shit. Aerosmith is just a fucking ride at Disney World these days.
Also performing was The Rappin' Republican himself, Curtis Jackson. Although according to The New York Daily News he kept it as real as possible under the circumstances:



"Fitty and his posse smelled like an open bottle of Hennessy," a witness told told me, adding that when the departing rapper prepared to enter his limo in the loading dock, a naked woman was spotted inside."

The main problem here isn't that the dude, David H. Brooks, is a man-child but mainly that his company (DHB Industries) made a lot of money selling bulletproof vests to the Army that ended up being really shitty and getting recalled. Who knows how much blood this asshole's got on his hands.

I'm sorry, Aerosmith and Fifty, but there are some instances where you really should turn down a lot of money, even if you really want it. This is one of them.

December 3, 2005

Donald Wildmon Unwittingly Summarizes the Conservative Ethos in a Single Sentence

Asked whether "putting the Christ back in Christmas" would alienate people who aren't actually Christian, but are pretty much co-opted into the holiday by consumer culture:

"'Tough luck,' said Donald Wildmon, chairman of the American Family Association. "This is an overwhelmingly Christian country." (from the ABC article in Seal's post below)

Nice. If only Donald Wildmon had been around Selma in 1955 ("Tough noogies. This country is overwhelmingly white").



I'd like to wish all of you Christians out there a merry Christmas season. To all the rest of you, you are darksided and I'll leave you to your Gorgayles, Phsycticks, Tarot Card readin' and Buddha Flags.

What's in a Name?

Ok, apparently I've been engaged in a war on Christmas and I didn't even know it. I'd like to apologize to everyone who has been offended whenever I smiled and wished someone a "Happy Holidays" or a "I hope you have a good winter break" or simply did not use the word "Christmas" compulsively during the period of Nov. 15-Dec. 26 any time during the past few years. Because apparently, such behavior is "Grinch-like" and "anti-Christian" and militantly secularist.

I'd just like to say I'm sorry and I'm glad I live in a Christian state where people that I don't even like can try to make me feel bad for using a word that has traditionally been associated with feelings of affability and open-heartedness.

In fact, I'm going to write Bill O'Reilly and tell him that he obviously has the Christmas spirit in him because he clearly has a whole fucking Christmas tree shoved up his falafel-loving ass.

Then I'd like to write Jerry Falwell a letter thanking him for turning Christmas into a crusade and thereby taking the attention off whatever spirit of kindness may have crept into people's hearts and replacing it with division and fractiousness.

"The fact is," Falwell said, "we've gone on the offense now. We've put them on the defense. We're kicking their butts and they're unhappy."

Christmas, ladies and gentlemen, a season of butt-kicking and making people unhappy.

Wait, can't you save that for Judgment Day, because I hear it's just around the corner. Ha! Made you look.

December 2, 2005

More on Bad Sex (Writing)

The winner was announced today--food critic Giles Coren, author of Winkler, which is not, I think, a reference to the Fonz. Coren came out ahead of the likes of Salman Rushdie, Marlon Brando (posthumous nomination, of course), Gabriel Garcia Marquez (can't find the accents on these damn British keyboards, sorry), Paul Theroux, and John Updike.

I'm far too Catholic to post the entire thing here, but here's what probably clinched it:
as she grabbed at his dick, which was leaping around like a shower dropped in an empty bath, she scratched his back deeply with the nails of both hands and he shot three more times, in thick stripes on her chest. Like Zorro.
Like Zorro indeed.