January 31, 2006
"It's a classic pseudo-event, a circus act in the divert-the-masses tradition of bread-and-circuses, a night of theater-of-the-absurd promoted and covered with unbearable sanctimony. The politicians and the media are locked in a folie-a-deux, a mutual hallucination that this is a Meaningful Moment in our civic religion."
The President bumbled through an hour of applause-interrupted defensiveness, with the occasional outright lie thrown in. By my rough count, he said "terror" or "terrorists" 18 times and "freedom" 15 times. He skirted around Iraq, floated out false optimism, ignored the reality of Afghanistan, pulled back on his social security agenda, and rambled a bit about malpractice and health savings account, as if anybody, anywhere actually believes that's the problem.
Possibly, the only thing sadder than the notion of "clean coal" having anything to do with our future and tough-talk on Iran that includes the word "nukyular", was the Democratic response.
Tim Kaine, you suck. Stop reading the cards, put down your creepy raised eyebrow, and if you want to appeal to the south, be subtle about the religious stuff. Seriously. The man has no appeal, no inflection, and said nothing intelligent. This was a perfect opportunity for the party to swoop in, and not only step on the President after his cower-in-a-corner damage control speech, but also offer up a clear alternative agenda. Instead, we got Kaine.
Possibly the only redeeming factor was watching McCain clap like one of those toy monkeys with cymbals, and of course, the outright hilarious looks on Hillary's face. I have newfound respect for the woman. Oh, and Karl Rove? You're totally slipping.
However, I have been sick recently, and I haven't been sleeping much. So I'm in no mood to dwell on shit that pisses me off. Therefore, I'm going to list the things I love about America, before they go away.
1) Rap music.
2) Scott Glabe.
3) Hipsters. Ha ha! Those wacky kids!
That's about it, boys and girls! We're all fucked!
In today's issue of the Dartmouth, Morgan Cohen has about the best formulation I have seen of all the points in the case for Palestine.
In Slate, Christopher Hitchens has a hell of a column that answers nearly all of Cohen's arguments.
On the other hand, there are these two articles you should read—one from the editor of a Beirut paper, and the other from the International Crisis Group—that provide some causes for optimism. We can only hope.
January 30, 2006
Nick’s argument proceeds from one basic premise: dissent is real leadership and is opposed to the sort of obedience and discipline demanded by the military, which is not leadership at all.
But dissent isn’t leadership in any real sense. It is, instead, leadership on an installment plan–I dissent now, you all are supposed to follow later, hopefully soon, though possibly never. Sometimes, that’s fantastic. And sometimes it’s chaotic and unproductive. Dissent is explicitly the avoidance of structured leadership, and sometimes structure is precisely what a situation demands.
And contrary to popular belief, dissent is not necessarily more courageous than “just following orders.” It’s absurd to say that an officer who assaults a fortified emplacement with his platoon is any less a leader or any less courageous simply because he did so as the result of an order. Are laws not orders? And are we courageous, gutsy leaders if we dissent from them when we think they’re wrong? I mean, I think marijuana has no business being criminalized, but I certainly wouldn’t call Dave Matthews a leader because he smokes more of it than the residents of any given block of Amsterdam. In addition, a dissenter may be putting his or her ass on the line, but quite often, he or she is talking out of it as well. And don't forget, "dissenter" is not an exclusively liberal category. We like to think of it as such, but what the hell do you call the Puritans, or John C. Calhoun or William Jennings Bryan or Barry Goldwater or, hell, Sam Alito?
Leadership is as much about discipline as it is about creative thought, and those things are not only entirely compatible, but are also often mutually supportive. In fact, innovation isn’t the antithesis of discipline; it’s the result.
Finally, if we’re going to attack campus programs that a) have a historical problem with homophobia and b) purport to be training leaders, but seem to be a little slack on that end, let’s be consistent and kill all the frats. After all, it certainly meets our criteria. Now I’d like to see the end of the Greek system as much as I’d like to be forced into a Student Assembly sponsored concert (O, Vanessa Carlton)–that is, not at all. But clearly, we are comfortable with at least some organizations whose leadership is occasionally in question and whose history has included some very homophobic actions and policies.
sigh. 823 words. Of that kind of insight. I pity Dartmouth professors if this is the kind of thing that makes it onto our opinion pages.
Edit: O, and give Joe two Malchow awards today for this and most of all, this. To be honest, I haven't read either closely. But one is something about Vaseline and haircuts and the other is about homophobia.
I did catch this: "forged was a nonsensical Latin Frankenstein, used to accuse opponents of hating all things and persons gay. Homophobia." Homo- and -phobia come from Greek. oops.
Don't let them fuck this one up. Don't let them say, "Hey, you know what, let's just bring Michelle Branch instead."
Collis 101 at 3 pm
50 Most Loathsome People in America, 2005
Michelle Malkin: "A curious case of racial Stockholm syndrome with a palpable lust for violent ideological oppression and displays of imperial power."
Martha Stewart: "Stewart, a woman so frigid she makes Gila monsters look cuddly, rode this wave of infamy to a resurgence in popularity and a second television show. To the nation’s delight, she then used this public forum to demean the aborigines in her charge with robotic mordancy."
Brownie: "A man of geological indolence, Brown makes lichens seem dynamic."
Johnny Damon: "Going from the Red Sox to the Yankees is like fucking the guy that murdered your husband." That one's not very Review-like.
The Schiavo one is also very funny, but I will let you read that one on your own.
Oh, and make sure to read Tom Friedman's (#7). I would quote it, but I'd have to quote the whole thing.
January 29, 2006
Scott Glabe argued that conservatives are better "stewards" of King's legacy for a host of reasons, all of which put King on the conservative side of today's spectrum, most stemming from the fact that he was, among other things, a deeply religious and Christian man. His stress on faith would make a lot of libs today uncomfortable, there is no denying that. But Glabe also gives one other reason for dressing up King as a conservative—his commitment to equality.
We are all familiar with Dr. King’s dream that his “four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character,” but we often forget, as Garris reminds us, that King still wishes them to be judged—by their moral turpitude [sic—I think Glabe may have meant fortitude?] rather than race. “Today,” she writes, “this is the conservative message.”I found it difficult, initially, to mount a criticism that was more than just, "King's vision hasn't been achieved, and we can't act like it has. Thus, some compensation for the detrimental activities of other people and other adverse circumstances is demanded, and denying that is a denial of King's efforts." I think that's a fairly strong answer, but I know it doesn't really say something that hasn't been said before. Here's a better effort, I hope:
It is in the very juxtaposition of the two points Glabe highlighted that we find an entry into the spirit of King's wish that we would all one day judge on the content of someone's character and not on the color of their skin. I believe that King understood equality in a Christian context—in other words, he understood it as Christ practiced it.
Christ was stunningly, shockingly partial in his ministry. He hung out with harlots and tax collectors while deriding priests and scribes. He stated, famously, that the first must be last and the last, first (Matt 19:30). He demanded much of those who had much: "From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked." (Luke 12:48) This, however, was all in the service of creating a society where God's equal distribution of love could take root equally. Sometimes this takes permanent partiality, as the Sermon on the Mount would attest. There is no "Oil executives are as blessed as the persecuted" there. And yet, grace is available to all, equally. This equal love, unequal attention is Christ's idea of fairness, or equality, and I am pretty sure that it was also close to Dr. King's.
But does it square with the conservative ideal of color-blindness? No, certainly not. Rather, that ideal resembles (a simplistic form) of the veil of ignorance of liberal philosopher John Rawls, a heritage which must be kind of ironic. I will admit that there is a certain moral logic to Rawls, but I am not certain that it is the logic Dr. King would have employed (and I'm not sure it should be employed—flaws are legion within that original position). I think what we can say is that conservatives are far better stewards of Rawls's legacy than that of Dr. King.
Edit: I didn't explain myself very well. Please read my comment below for some clarification (I hope).
Much funnier, however, is this:
Recently, a user wrote in a Wikipedia bio that Virginia Congressman Eric Cantor "smells of cow dung." Another wrote that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is "ineffective." These statements were traced to the House Internet-protocol (IP) address.Tom DeLay, that kind of petulance is really inappropriate. It should stop. Really.
At a party rally in Sardinia on Saturday, the media tycoon received the blessing of television preacher Massimiliano Pusceddu, who thanked him for opposing gay marriage and defending family values.Are Viagra supplies running low for the $12 Billion Man?
"Thank you dear Father Massimiliano, I'll try not to let you down and I promise you two and a half months of complete sexual abstinence until April 9," Berlusconi replied
January 28, 2006
Neither review really makes me want to read Levy's little journal, but Garrison Keillor is outright offended by it, perhaps because it threatens the idea of America he tries to present in his Prairie Home Companion bullshit. It's a review etched in acid, and, frankly, I never knew Garrison was such an asshole. The man uses the word "negatory." Who has he been hanging out with—David Spade?
Maybe I'm taking Keillor too seriously, but this series of sentences is either entirely unself-conscious or entirely arch, or both—"Lévy is quite comfortable with phrases like "as always in America." Bombast comes naturally to him... As always with French writers, Lévy is short on the facts, long on conclusions." (emphasis added)
Keillor complains about two things—Levy's attraction to the rather strange elements of America—"Beverly Hills; Dealey Plaza in Dallas; Bourbon Street in New Orleans; Graceland; a gun show in Fort Worth; a "partner-swapping club" in San Francisco with a drag queen with mammoth silicone breasts; the Iowa State Fair ("a festival of American kitsch"); Sun City ("gilded apartheid for the old");a stock car race"—and Levy's love of paradox and rhetorical questions.
But where would Keillor visit, if he were a French philosopher intent on describing America to itself? I mean seriously, is America that different from its oddest parts?
Oops. That was a rhetorical question.
January 27, 2006
This one's a doozy, all about mean teachers of evolution, righteous little girls in pigtails, and black children named Timmy who are ignorant of Christ's message (see above). These things could get addictive; I'm having so much fun laughing. (In disgust)
The fact is that support of the troops, just like support of anything else, should always be conditional. I support the troops as long as they're doing things I support. It seems really condescending and dehumanizing to say "well, the actual foot soldiers had no say in what they'd be doing on the ground." That's horseshit. They ask you to do something wrong, you break your contract, quit, accept your dishonorable discharge or whatever. There are obviously societal consequences to that, but if our soldiers are as Brave and Strong and Honorable as retired Air Force colonels with blogs are constantly letting us know they are, then they should be able to handle it.
2. Suicide-bombing is wrong. No shit. The point of everyone-but-Feokstistov is that some Israeli policy might be wrong too, racism isn't one-sided, and actions that appear "more wrong" don't justify unethical and oppressive measures by the other side.
3. I'm sick of this Israel-Palestine debate now. Check out today's Guy and Fellow , it sums up how I feel decently enough.
In trying to answer Feoktistov's challenge to "find anything within mainstream Israeli society even remotely approaching the level of hatred and blood-thirst in mainstream Palestinian culture," Paul Pope supplies the following
Just today, the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz reported that "some 46 percent of Israel's Jewish citizens favor transferring Palestinians out of the territories, while 31 percent favor transferring Israeli Arabs out of the country, according to the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies' poll..."There is only one relevant question here: Is there any moral equivalence between a suicide bombing and mass deportation? This is what Pope would like us to believe. While mass deportation is morally wrong, suicide bombing is a whole 'nother magnitude of wrong, and equating the two is unsound moral logic.
Pope ends by saying that Israel is a racist state. Yes, that is true, but what does that make the Palestinians?
January 26, 2006
The American death penalty has come a long way since the day of public hangings. Many states have either officially or effectively phased out the death penalty, and the electric chair and gas chamber have been phased out as "cruel and unusual" punishment.
While anti-capital punishment activists have long focused on legislative bans and attempts to prove the innocence of those who have been executed, it now appears that lethal injection, the supposedly quick and painless alternative to the brutal methods of the past, could also be ruled unconstitutional.
As the BBC reports, the US Supreme Court yesterday issued a temporary stay in the execution of Clarence Hill in Florida, on the grounds that the chemical cocktail of lethal injection could cause pain, and therefore would violate the US Constitution as cruel and unusual punishment. It is yet to be seen whether this will cause a temporary moratorium on US executions, as few states have an alternative to lethal injection for executions, and a decision is not expected until the summer.
The BBC also reports that, besides the 37 states where lethal injection is the preferred method, electrocution remains legal in 10 states and is the only method available in Nebraska, the gas chamber remains in five states that also offer injection, hanging is still legal in New Hampshire and Washington, and firing squads are still legal in Oklahoma and Idaho.
Democrats seem to be moving away from materialistic determinism. In past decades, Democratic political campaigns have been based primarily on appeals to economic interests. But especially in the information age, social values and cultural capital shape a person's economic destiny more than the other way around.In his Presidential campaign of 1968, Robert Kennedy said, "Let's face it, I appeal best to people who have problems." That could be said to be the Democratic Party's operating principle ever since, and I believe that there is nothing ignoble about that. But middle-class managerial types have problems too—problems that quite often center on values and problems that Democrats must also address, and address lucidly. We should simply move on from the Marxist attitude that the petit-bourgeoisie don't matter and shouldn't matter. Talk about alienation, geez.
If you are a middle-class woman, you have more to fear from divorce than from outsourcing. If you have a daughter, you're right to worry more about her having a child before marriage than about her being a victim of globalization. This country's prosperity is threatened more by homes where no one reads to children than it is by big pharmaceutical companies.
January 25, 2006
I've done some research of my own on the dynamics of Palestinian terrorism since "Allahu Akbar and a Bang," and I must say, bluntly, Feoktistov is miles closer to being right than was Justine Simon, and for the reasons enumerated by Feoktistov, though he does understress the role of religious doctrine in accounting for the suicide bombings, preferring to lay the blame solely on anti-Semitism. That clearly is an enormous part of it, but so are the incentives of martyrdom for a Muslim and the doctrines concerning treatment of the unbelievers and the sanctity of any land once possessed by Muslims.
Fundamentalism can be found anywhere, but suicide bombing can't, and there are certain factors stemming directly from the Koran and the hadith (the collected sayings of Muhammed) that have precipitated the employment of this particular tactic and the massive support for it among other Muslims.
And you get to listen to a theater critic! (Pardon me—"theatre.") And a television star of the All-Catholic-all-the-time channel, EWTN!
Shucks, and I thought free copies of the Review itself was a raw deal!
January 24, 2006
Here's what I'd like to highlight, what I think is at the heart of Stein's piece: "The real purpose of those ribbons is to ease some of the guilt we feel for voting to send them to war and then making absolutely no sacrifices..." Seriously, what kind of support is that shit? Worrying might be considered support, but it's not really. And that's about the biggest privation most of us who have had a family member in Iraq or Afghanistan have undergone. None of us "support" this war in the sense of making material concessions or going without.
But Stein also hedges around saying that he doesn't respect or approve of the troops in the sense that he doesn't want us to celebrate their efforts because those efforts, bottom-line, are still actions we disapprove of. It's like saying, 'I don't support lobbyists meaning, essentially, that I don't respect or approve of what they're doing, and I'm not going to throw a parade if they get a big highway construction project allotted for my town.'
Clearly, there is a vast difference between the risks a lobbyist takes and the risks a soldier takes, and I think that is where you could really disagree with Stein (I would—soldiers with clean records deserve our respect, flat out), but Stein allows himself the use of a big shock line which masks what I think he's really saying. And what he's saying is entirely logically coherent.
Someday, just as an aside, I'd like to graph Joe Malchow's posts—content vs. volubility. Something tells me they're inversely related, especially when Joe starts substituting punctuation marks—spelled out! no less—for thought—"Ampersand. Exclamation point. Question mark. Exclamation point, Exclamation point, Exclamation point. Question mark. Exclamation point. Question mark. Question mark. Ampersand. Those jumbled characters express utter confusion and anger in internet parlance. In spelling them out, I hope to amplify their efficacy under the principles of fission."
Joe, you leave me speechless. But you forgot Interrobang.
I think that this post exemplifies just why we as democrats have been so unable to prevent this country's slide into theocracy. Just why exactly do you feel it necessary to so vitriolically insult some of the most powerful and liberal Democratic Senators? Republicans know not to go after their own well-connected ideologues because they get shit done. Party loyalty is necessary if we are to regain control. Say what you will about Ted Kennedy, but at least he knows what side he's on.I wanted to respond then, but felt I needed to mull this whole thing over a bit. Now might not be a good time to respond either, with the impending Alito vote, but I think we should take the weeks immediately after that vote to really take stock of the party and, in my opinion, make some enormous changes. Anyway, here's what I've got to say.
Just when will it be ok to say that the liberals from the generation of the 1960s have no idea what they're doing and never did?
When can it be said that Democrats are the minority party because we never tried to be the majority, post-New Deal? We did everything to win short of convince 50.1% of America that our ideals are worth voting for. And now we wonder why they don't.
When can it be said that some of the ways we fought for the liberties we now strive to protect created the very attacks we now attempt to repel?
When can it be said that a NASCAR dad can be trusted as much as a college professor to know what's good for himself?
When can it be said that if we do not have faith in the American people, we cannot expect or demand their faith in us?
When can it be said with conviction that America will overcome the challenges and threats—domestic and foreign—that it faces, as it always has? That Americans as citizens have an unshakeable bedrock of civic commitment and democratic ideals that we, as Democrats, can and must rely on rather than try to circumvent?
Can we risk saying these things now, with the conservatives in power and pressing in on every side? Yeah, I think we can, I think we must, and I think we should.
Republicans will be bogged down fighting off scandals for the next few months. We must get our house in order now. And the first tenants to kick out should be the very ones that are holding us back. They're bringing down our property value, regardless of which side they know they're on.
Take this quiz to see if you can identify quotes as belonging to either Pat Robertson/Jerry Falwell or Osama bin Laden (or Usama, as the author prefers). I did moderately well, but that was because I used the George Costanza Strategy—anytime you have an intuition, do the opposite.
January 23, 2006
Those who clamor for integration primarily are people who expect others to do it for them. This is simply an unreasonable expectation and a fairly hypocritical one at that.
Now this is far, far different from the effort of racially integrating schools post-Brown v. Topeka; that was an issue of equal access to opportunity. Something tells me people who support this "Please, Dartmouth, integrate us!" spirit aren't likely to go home and cry about the opportunities they're losing at Tabard or Cutter Shabazz. I'm certainly not crying about the opportunities I'm missing at football team practice or ski patrol. No, this drive to weaken affinity groups is the result of a desire to fulfill an ideology, not a desire to fulfill our Dartmouth lives.
Basically, the problem is not the fact that people choose to affiliate with race, or sexual orientation, or religion, or sports team, or Greek house. The problem is that this is all they do. And the answer to that is not administratively induced tokenism, which is probably the best a top-down mandate would accomplish.
The problem is not affiliation, it is indolence. It is the lack of effort used to move beyond one's core group to other people that is the problem, not the fact that we have core groups. And this can only be solved by inspiring activity, and the best way to do this, I feel, is to inspire activity in those core groups.
January 22, 2006
January 21, 2006
I do not know enough about Sabinson to make any sort of call about this, but I have done a bit of searching around on the SA Guide and the D archives to see what I can find. Here are some items (none particularly interesting) for your perusal:
- The D, 2002, "Profs. interact across departments": "[Sabinson] said, '[eighteen years ago], our students weren't as 'professional.' Now there is a hyperintensification of professionalism between students and faculty. It is more bureaucratized.' Sabinson also commented on the campus' use of BlitzMail. 'Everybody emails everybody. That has depersonalized us'"
- The D, 2002, "Faculty, staff lack parking": Sabinson strongly protests the administration's effort to allot parking to the Hanover Inn, stating that the necessity of parking somewhere else will pose a safety concern for profs walking out late.
- The D, 2002, "Innovation and Uninhibited Expression Paramount to Theater at Dartmouth": "Sabinson embraces experimentation and change saying, "Sometimes when you say no -- that's when people say, 'To hell with you,' and take action." Some people will work together, some will work against each other, but either way the representation of a class or a generation continues to be found on a stage, or maybe staged in the woods."
- The D, 1995, "Teaching, researching and managing: Dept. chairs": Sabinson complains about the prevalence of email again.
- The D, 1996, "'Mother Courage' production lacks cohesion of original": Sabinson's performance as Mother Courage is strongly criticized by the D's reviewer. Sabinson, and the play, were later defended by another student.
- The D, 1996, "Learn to Listen": This op-ed is a sort of defense of the practice of casting faculty members in the leads for college productions, and deals specifically with Professor Sabinson and Mother Courage.
- The D, 1995, "Soules returns to College": Soules, a Broadway actress, praises Sabinson as "one of the best directors I have ever worked with. Mara worked in professional theater, so she has an idea about what it's really like."
- Class reviews, Acting II, 2005W: "The class is painfully slow, Mara rarely participates in the warmup work or any exercise, and she expects everyone to know what to do before she gives instructions. She is brutally honest, which I admire, but in this setting she ruthlessly stifles creativity. She loves to hear herself talk and simple explanations turn into hour long discussions. During scene work, she helpful with blocking and things of those sorts; she would make a good director, but sucks as a teacher of acting. For those who are dabbling in theater: seriously quesiton if you want to do this course on a whim - it may save you many painfully boring hours. Nice enough person, probably a good director, but terrible acting prof."
- Class review, Theater 30, 2004X: "Prof can be harsh but is really effective." [From another student"] "Mara...really made it quite stressful to be in class with. She was one of those profs who makes you nervous just to ask a question because she isn't happy that you didn't already know the answer - and considering how subjective the grading system is for acting 1... it's not good to get on her 'bad side'."
In the end, when it comes to questions about presidential war powers, it just doesn't matter all that much whether a judge is a strict constructionist or an activist, a pragmatist, a textualist, or an originalist. Judicial promises to respect precedent are almost immaterial when the precedents are either ancient or nonbinding. What matters most when the case law falls away are ideology and politics.More, but on a tangential topic: This post by Kevin Drum exemplifies exactly what I hate about Washington insiders—they treat all of politics like just some game for their amusement. That's essentially what I felt the Dem senators were doing in opposing Alito, and it is for that reason that I stated that "I find absolutely no reason why Alito does not deserve confirmation", though I have been convinced since that the possibilities Alito's confirmation presents regarding the expansion and protection of nearly unlimited executive power are both likely and frightening enough for Dems to do what it takes to keep him out.
However, Drum seems pretty sanguine about this all. "It would have taken some serious research to prepare for an all-out attack on the Bush administration's view of executive sovereignty [...] but at least it would have given the press something interesting and unexpected to write about. [...] It was an opportunity missed." God damn, we're worried about giving the press something interesting to write about?
January 20, 2006
[M]any groups stand as virtually isolated entities pursuing their own agendas outside the whole. Perhaps one way this trend could shift is if selective organizations simply advertised their existence and character to freshmen instead of actively recruiting during the first few weeks. [...] A reduced emphasis on early recruitment would provide freshmen with an opportunity to discover Dartmouth in their own wayHowever, is this really necessary? The D recognizes that "[m]any students cite their participation in such organizations as one of the highlights of their Dartmouth experience." Why not find a way to work with the current arrangement and still make it possible for Dartmouth's diversity to be an active one instead of a creation mostly of the college mailings? Why do we need to in essence make these affinity groups weaker to make Dartmouth more diverse? I think we can best make Dartmouth more truly diverse—and interesting—by strengthening them.
How would this work? Simply this: If a group is stronger on a campus our size, its direction will tend to be outward, rather than inward. At a state school, this probably isn't true, but I think stronger groups tend to be more active groups, and more active groups means more interaction between and among groups. If you have both an acid and a base, and if you increase the strength of both, you will get more product, while if you dilute both, both will remain for the most part inactive. Inactivity, apathy, and indifference are the greatest dangers toward forming a dull, self-segregating, and static campus. Activity, energy, and the cultivation of difference in interesting ways—that's what we should aim for.
January 19, 2006
A quick glance at our coverage of Iran's nuclear program has focused on whether or not Iran will use the technology peacefully, and how to react. What our media have not addressed, is a certain hypocrisy that Arab media appear incensed by. (They also seem to ignore the peaceful/aggresive use of technology issue entirely in these excerpts, caring only about the double standard).
Here are two of those excerpts, the first from Saudi Arabia's Al-Riyad and the second from Egypts Al-Jumhuriyah.
" Encouraging Israel, supplying it with the material and scientific means and encouraging it to create a balance of terror in the region is the main cause for seeking weapons equal in strength and deterrence. "
" No to double standards - Israel relies on its nuclear arsenal to carry out an expansionist aggressive policy and to reject any just settlement to the Palestinian issue. As a consequence, the international community's failure to address this aggressive nuclear arsenal removes the credibility of any international move to prevent others from attempting to follow in Israel's footsteps."
The problem this article presents—that boys are faring progressively worse in school—is genuine, and is genuinely perplexing, but some of the solutions this article comes up with are laughable—more boy-friendly reading material and less emphasis on turning assignments in on time—as are the freak-outs by men scared for the future: "I heard nothing but heels clicking," says one distressed father at a National Honor Society induction.
Up goes the cry of social conservatives: Dear God, let us judge entirely on merits, but O Lord, not yet. Not while my son is trying to get into college.
I don't know, it seems interesting to me that the focus of this article is that boys are doing so much worse than girls rather than just that boys are doing poorly. Let us by all means improve boys' scores, but shouldn't we see girls' improvement and greater confidence over the past few years as a positive thing?
Anyway, moving on, in Gonzales v. Oregon, the assisted suicide case just before the Court, Scalia dissents from the majority ruling that the federal government (i.e. John Ashcroft and his successor Alberto Gonzales) cannot stick its big nose into Oregon's right to pass a law allowing assisted suicide (Oregon has actually passed this law twice).
Scalia dissents, following Aschcroft's use of the Controlled Substances Act with its clause restricting substances with no legitimate medical purpose as his basis for allowing federal intrusion. His colleagues state sensibly that "legitimate medical purpose" is a value judgment and the intention of the Controlled Substances Act was demonstrably not even close to applying to this circumstance.
Scalia demonstrates that his commitment is not to precedent (even his own) or to consistency or even to original intent, but to his own program, his own agenda. And yet the very conservatives who decry activist judges probably hold up his opinion as a model of jurisprudential sanity.
(The Agenda Gap has more.)
January 18, 2006
Creative exercises such as "Allahu Akbar and a Bang" do nothing but breed the ignorance involved with the Western World's understanding of Islam. Where there is religion, there is fundamentalism. From L.K Advani, the Hindu fundamentalist who spearheaded the massacre of Muslims in Ayodhya in 1992 to Yigal Amir, the messianic Jewish fundamentalist responsible for the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, it must never be forgotten that extremism spans all religion.I can personally attest to this. This term I'm in Richmond, Indiana, my hometown and the home of Earlham College, a liberal arts college founded and still controlled by the Society of Friends, commonly known as Quakers. If there is a single sect I would believe to be incapable of collapse into fundamentalism, it is the Quakers. However, this is simply not true. I have met, strange as it sounds, Quakers I would describe as fundamentalists. Now I certainly am not trying to demean the entire religion or even make a generalization about its members; I just want to say that no religion is immune to fundamentalism. No group that focuses on something as important as the metaphysical aspects of life is going to be free of exclusivist practices and attitudes, of fanatics, of harmful pride.
Also, check out Thomas Cormen's explanation of the structure and improvement of the Writing Program.
Finally, I've been meaning to link to a few different posts of theirs, but keep forgetting. The Agenda Gap has been doing a great job of late covering national politics and legal issues.
Using Clinton and Bush as exemplars of the Boomer Left and the Boomer Right (a designation problematic in itself), the article seeks to briefly illuminate how the worldview formed from Mouseketeer Clubs and Vietnam protests has shaped the political landscape today.
I guess such generational profiling is interesting, but is it useful in changing anything? Isn't this type of article just one more example of the self-fascination and narcissism that is so often attributed to the Boomers? Few generations in history have been as interested in chronicling their own plights, in fashioning a self-image distinct from their parents.
But where does that leave our generation? Aren't we also caught in their narcissism in such a way that attempting to correct or at least free ourselves from their "heritage" is essentially reprising their self-centeredness?
I suppose a Hegelian would look at this as the typical thesis ("Greatest Generation"), antithesis (Baby Boomers), and synthesis (us). But who wants to be a synthesis of Sinatra and Dylan?
January 17, 2006
There is a bit of an exchange occurring currently between RWiT and the DEP which I really won't stick my nose into other than to say that I don't find students helping edit other students' papers a weird idea. Editing improves not only the writing of the "tutee" but also that of the tutor in the same way, I'm sure, that running drill helps students hone their language skills or at least keep them sharp. A student helping a student means that two students are helped. That's a good ratio.
Asch's point about the quality of writing is undeniable. Dartmouth must support the expansion of some writing program, be it on the model of RWiT or the model of DEP or something in between. Here are some suggestions of my own, however, of changes that should or could take place in the classroom. Actually, these are not my own; they are what I observed from Paul Christesen, the Classics prof and the best writing instructor I have ever had.
- Directed criticisms. No "I found your thesis to be murky." I find such a criticism murky. Maybe this is just my experience, but a teacher will rarely be both harsh and insightful at once in their evaluation of an essay. That is not helpful.
- Demand eloquence in classroom discussion. I am in total agreement with the Review here—speaking well is foundational to expressing oneself well in other ways, including in writing. This has long been the foundation of the British public school system, and look at what they've churned out over the years.
- It seems like a cheap high school trick, but demand an outline accompanying the paper. It really keeps the kids honest. Clever students can, of course, do this ex post facto, but students being clever does not seem to be the problem here.
- Textbooks are not examples of good writing. Demand outside reading of articles from the field and on the topic at hand. Require, somehow, the students to demonstrate knowledge of their contents.
- Concision. Assign shorter papers more often. Nothing is harder to fake than a concise summary of a large range of sources, thoughts, and arguments, and nothing is more challenging to pull off than a 4 page paper outlining, say, the three most significant facets of Ancient Greek civilization (a real paper topic).
Well, those are just a few. If you have any suggestions, please leave a comment.
January 16, 2006
Think of a codgity old man, complaining about all the damn blacks moving into his neighborhood. Now extrapolate that out into some global scale argument informed by every conservative misinformation, a half-literate sense of foreign policy, and for good measure, toss in a few talking-point-based tangents about the left, feminists, and, ugh, sodomites.
It goes on, and I'm not going to bore myself (or our faithful readers) taking it down point-by-point. The real problem is that this somewhat articulate, if batshit-insane, view of the world is pretty common among mainstream conservatives. It contains the characteristic untruths, inability to think in shades of grey, hyperbole about the spectre of (gasp!) change, and remarkable conglomeration of all things non-conservative into the same civilization-eroding evil. This kind of us-or-them, fight-or-die mentality (and in this case, the fight entails not only military combat but also canceling that pesky welfare state), whether written intentionally as a manifesto for conservative minions, or the honest delusions of this man, calls for policies that are far more dangerous and more likely to threaten our well-being than any of the things this guy whines about.
So if any of ya'll browsed this and we're interested in taking up Mr. Wilson's manifesto (as I've dubbed it....hence the comic above), you should probably, oh I don't know, read a book.
"There's basically two principles that define the Bush administration policies: stuff the pockets of your rich friends with dollars, and increase your control over the world. Almost everything follows from that. If you happen to blow up the world, well, you know, it's somebody else's business. Stuff happens, as Rumsfeld said." -Noam Chomsky, the Smartest Fucking Man in the Whole World.
Can anyone throw up somebody smarter than Chomsky? Muhphukka HELL no.
"In Africa," it said, "there are no murders, there are only unfortunate deaths." And, as the film illustrated, sometimes there aren't even unfortunate deaths, but rather suddenly nonexistent persons.
America, I would like to say, does not have suddenly nonexistent persons, but there are thousands of unfortunate deaths. Millions perhaps. Not in the same visceral way as depicted in The Constant Gardener, except perhaps with Katrina, but there is a degree of culpability we have long failed to recognize adequately in deaths by poverty, deaths by malnutrition, deaths by insufficient health care. I am not sure, however, that we can fully commit ourselves to addressing and redressing these "unfortunate deaths" in our country while ignoring an entire continent full of such deaths.
I am not even sure that we can even make serious inroads in this country towards ending or at the very least diminishing racism until we as a nation make a serious commitment to taking the problems of Africa seriously. I think our devaluation of Africa translates directly to the devaluation of African-Americans; the abandonment of one is, I think, linked to the abandonment of the other.
Racism is easiest to practice through negligence, and our negligence toward Africa smooths the path toward more acute forms of racism in our own country. If we wish to have a hope of ending racism in our nation, we must not ignore Africa.
January 15, 2006
The main one is that the current American concept of democracy—elections and a free market—is insufficient. The follow-up point is that democracy's heart and soul is the wide dispersion of power, and it is that requirement that we are missing.
The second important point is that our market economy, driven as it is solely by providing the highest return to stockholders with no other ethical, political, or even cultural motivations, is antithetical to the wide dispersion of power.
I'd like to read some Milton Friedman for a balanced perspective, but that argument sounds pretty strong to me. If any conservatives or libertarians have a specific recommendation in that vein, I'd be appreciative. I plan on reading Free to Choose, but there's probably something else I should read.
Also, I knew the Indianapolis Colts weren't that good. This makes me sad.
January 14, 2006
A document (pdf) prepared by the People for the American Way focuses for the most part on his decisions about discrimination lawsuits, machine guns and spousal notification. While those are important issues, if Bush has a clear agenda in nominating Alito, it's not likely to pertain to any of those things. Bush's hallmark has frequently been his self-interest, and if that concern obtains here, he will have nominated a judge who will be likely to cover his ass in the possibility that he or his cronies are brought before the Supreme Court for their recklessness and abuses. Alito's work for Reagan essentially set the groundwork for many of the arguments that may be used in defending the President or his agents from prosecution regarding the domestic spying. (Read the testimonies of Professor Chemerinsky and Beth Nolan from the 5th Day of the hearings for more.)
If, in fact, Bush authorized parts of the NSA spying program prior to 9/11, it is an unmistakable sign that he is not merely opportunistic in using 9/11 to expand his powers, but intended effectively since his inauguration to broaden them to the fullest possible extent. I think we should all be much more worried about the possibility of an autocratic executive than the likelihood that conservatives will control indisputably all three branches of the government. I have faith that the checks and balances of the Constitution, if working properly, will do their job and keeping conservatives from totally remaking the country in their own image. But if the executive sweeps these checks away, we're truly in danger.
January 13, 2006
First, in the front page bold face headline, "Sharpton rails Bush in pre-MLK speech," "to rail" is not a transitive verb, at least in this sense. If, by chance, the D editors mean that Sharpton wishes "to set in order or array; to arrange; to regulate" Bush, I suppose they have a right to use "rail" transitively. However, when using "to rail" to mean "[t]o utter abusive language," which I hope to hell that the good Reverend was doing, the OED recommends the use of any of the following prepositions when one implicates the object of the raillery: "against, at, of, on, upon, with." This is the fucking lead headline. C'mon.
Edit: It gets worse. The Drudge Report linked to the article, so now Matt Drudge's legions of readers can all see the lack of Dartmouth's English skills.
Second, Steph Herbert is now so Dartmouth that she's started listening to all our conversations. Great, cool, but there's already a very amusing blog that does it. I just wish they'd do it more.
There are very few movies that I have ever seen that, as soon as the credits rolled, I wanted to watch all over again, immediately. Brokeback Mountain is such a movie.
I would not call Brokeback the best film of the year—Gegen Die Wand belongs in that spot, I think—nor even the best American film—A History of Violence takes that position. Brokeback drags occasionally, but I think that's because it is paced more like an Asian film—there is a certain similarity to Wong Kar Wai's In the Mood for Love, or more so, to Happy Together—rather than something like The Notebook or some other Hollywood tragedy/melodrama.
Honestly, I was expecting a very, very good melodrama when I walked in the theater. So when I walked out, I was a little puzzled, a little thrown off-balance. But I knew one thing for sure. I wish I knew the characters better—all of them, but particularly Ennis Del Mar, Heath Ledger's character. Heath Ledger gives the best performance of the decade, if not more. Ledger creates a Marlboro Man with an infinite depth; every twitch of his mouth, every narrowing of his eyes has an entire world of emotions, thoughts, associations behind it. This is the most complete character work I have ever seen. And I do not think it is too hyperbolic to say that not since Brando has a male actor been this quietly powerful. Ledger is a marvel, and if he were the only good part of the film, I would still count it one of the best of the year.
But there is a lot more to appreciate. Jake Gyllenhaal gives a great performance, but is unavoidably overshadowed by Ledger. Anne Hathaway plays deliciously against type, a Texan rodeo star who can't keep her shirt on, her mouth off a cigarette, or her hair from ridiculousness. Michelle Williams is not called on for much, but two moments in particular—in bed with Ledger and immediately after observing Ledger and Gyllenhaal kissing—are among the more moving seconds in the film. Then there is the cinematography. I think it is Montana that is called the Big Sky State, but Wyoming's expansiveness is nonpareil. This film is shot gorgeously.
But it is really the characters that made me want to watch it over again. I simply did not want to leave Ennis, but I also wanted to observe all the characters more, try to figure out more, learn more about them, simply watch them interact. Brokeback Mountain is over two hours long, but, like a really good novel, there will never be enough pages or minutes of film to contain the complexities you can observe in a single paragraph or a single close-up in just one character's face. I wish I knew the characters in Brokeback, or at the very least, I wish I could just watch them some more.
January 12, 2006
In their perpetual quest to catch up to the Europeans and Japanese in automotive technology, Detroit has decided to aggressively market “flex fuel” vehicles—those that can run on either gasoline or E85, a special 85% ethanol and 15% gas blend. The motive for doing so is clear: consumers have pegged Ford and GM as laggards in creating fuel-efficient technology. Both companies have been late to hybrid technology, which is now dominated by Honda and Toyota (Ford did introduce the first hybrid SUV, but still pays royalties to Toyota for its hybrid patents). The Americans have even been beat at their own hydrogen-car initiative—Honda produced working prototypes of a fuel-cell hydrogen car over two years ago.
The flex-fuel vehicles aim to take advantage of consumer ignorance over the true cost of ethanol. Ethanol is a grain alcohol that is created from the fermentation of sugars, which in the U.S., comes namely from the heavily subsidized Midwestern states. Proponents proclaim that adding it to gasoline blends will make it burn cleaner on a per-gallon basis; this is true. However, the claim that ethanol is energy efficient is questionable at best. While it is nature’s way of channeling solar energy for tangible use, the method by which the corn is transformed into ethanol uses gargantuan amounts of energy itself.
In U.S. agriculture, we use fossil fuels on the farm—the plow, for fertilization, irrigation, pesticide application, and harvesting. After air-conditioned tractors gather the corn, we then transport it via fossil-fuel semis to processing plants. More energy is used to process it, refrigerate it (condense ethanol into liquid) and then transport it yet again. What is the true impact?
David Pimentel of Cornell University has published controversial papers expounding ethanol’s net cost. That is, for every joule of non-solar energy (the sun is essentially free energy) inputted, the end-user is outputted only a fraction of that joule. While additional studies conclude that there might be a tiny net benefit, we can only conclude that E85’s efficiency highly uncertain. Physics tells that energy is lost as heat (friction and the like) over longer transmission distances, which begs the question: if we use fossil fuel to grow an “alternative fuel” to provide energy, why not just use the fossil fuel directly?
Moreover, what is absolutely certain is that when E85 is added to any car, E85 engines have around 25% lower fuel-efficiency. For example, a Ford Taurus using E85 is much less efficient than the same Ford Taurus using regular gasoline (Hwy mileage: Gas, 27; E85, 20).
Given Ford and GM’s financial problems, pursuing technology with very little demand doesn’t make sense. Their R&D dollars would be better spent on creating the fuel-efficient vehicles that Americans now want (hybrid growth is astronomical). Few people have access to rare E85 stations, which won’t change in number unless the government creates lavish subsidies. Midwest politicians are sure to love bringing in the pork under the guise of “increasing energy security” when in fact they do nothing but exacerbate the situation—increased ethanol use only drives up demand for even more fossil fuels. There are no real winners here, except perhaps Archer-Daniels-Midland, who will be rolling in liquid gold.
Edit: In the interest of journalistic integrity, I must inform you that the Minnesota North Stars technically aren't defunct. They moved to Dallas in 1993 and became the Dallas Stars. Hat tip to Varun Jain for the reminder.
Certainly a novel approach to fighting AIDS.
The local priest is protesting. I wonder if he's exempt from this law?
January 11, 2006
I mean, the Republican Party was the one that did that swift-boating thing, right? And the one that waged total war on Richard Clarke, yeah? And the one who launched an abortive attack on Jack Murtha? And the one that annihilated one of their own—Harriet Miers—rightly, yes, but nevertheless relentlessly, mercilessly, and even gleefully. I mean, Harriet Miers was supposedly a nice lady. And conservatives didn't feel too bad about raking her over the coals.
I really think the Dem Senators in that room suck balls. Ted Kennedy and Chuck Schumer should be put out to pasture someplace or given a teaching job at Cornell. And I think they're flogging a bunch of dead horses—none of their objections amount to something that should sink a judicial appointment. But Brit Hume whining about those mean, mean Dems asking mean, mean questions of Judge Alito? Please, the man's from New Jersey. I seriously doubt today was the worst day in his life.
Edit: For the record, this was really fucking dumb of me.
Their first post is an intriguing little report on and critique of Joe Asch's failing writing program. The author finds it ironic that Joe Asch, a huge critic of administrative waste, has been running a separate writing program from the already present and successful RWIT, but at a much greater cost per student. Not only that, but it has now failed, as the D reports.
Anyway, keep an eye on this blog and look for more to come.
!) Nick Desai Doesn't Know What Vice is. If you're starting to write some smarmy article about hipsters, and you want to shit out some extremely predictable judgments at the end of it, and somehow you need to fill like seventeen pages with text, the least you could do is your fucking homework. Writing an article about hipsters without mentioning Vice is like writing an article about William F. Buckley without mentioning that he's decomposing.
!!) Everett P. Strong (of the Bradenton, Florida Strongs) wrote a stupid fucking letter about how conservatives are so cool because they, unlike us joyless lefties, demonstrate an "appealing joie de vivre." As evidence he gives us this delightful anecdote:
George Will did a piece on Bill Buckley, part of which says it all—He: "Patricia, would you consider marriage with me?" She: "Bill, I’ve been asked this question many times. To others I have said no. To you I say yes. Now may I please get back and finishmy hand?" A liberal would never understand this.
Number one, he's right. I don't get that shit at all, and the only comment I can make on it is that I personally rate the probability that this exchange never, ever took place anywhere at around 99%.
Number two, if they're going to try to make a soul singer look dumb by adding little [sic]s after every word little typo and capitalization error they could at least copy-edit their own shit. I would cite something but you know what? I don't have to. Pick a page and read about six lines.
Number three, fuck that. I'm a liberal and there's a lot of things I take joy in. For instance, consensual sex between homosexuals. And rap music. All the things they consider "good and fun"- which is what? Poker games? Obnoxious banter? Polo? Gay-bashing? Lynching black people (whoops, cheap shot. They used to think that was fun, but now they all agree that it is bad, bad, bad)? You know what, Everett? You're right again, honky! I don't get that shit at all!
!!!) G. Emily Ghods-Esfahani. Oh hello, Shakespeare article. You know, I think I'd like to read you now. Perhaps you contain some sort of insight as to BBBAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRFFFFFFF Oh God I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to vomit just then but your BBBAAAAAAAARRFFFFFFFFfff cough cough prose style is so BBBAAAARRRRRRRRFFFFFF BBBAAAARRRRRRRRFFFFFFFFFFFFf BBBAAAAAAAAAAaaaaAaaaaaAAARRrrrRRRRRRFFFFFFFFF.
January 10, 2006
Doug Bandow, the payola op-ed writer, speaks out. He has some really interesting things to say not only about his particular situation, but also about the general state of lobbying and journalism. I hope some people listen to him.
A bit of history and some reflections on the changes in Congress that have led to not only the Abramoff scandal, but the conditions that have allowed it. One great line: "Being a lobbyist to them (Congressmen and their aides) was like being a prostitute -- it was something you did only when desperate."
Nick Desai's little essay is a lesson in what sentences look like when they are brutally forced and lack any point whatsoever. I have made fun of the Review's ostentatious prose before, but honestly, I enjoy reading a sentence that contains words that I thought only I (and George Will) knew. But only if those sentences are smooth, albeit in a Thomas Carlyle-throw-the-kitchen-sink-into-every-clause manner. Desai can write well; I have enjoyed many of his previous reviews, and his review of Zadie Smith's On Beauty isn't half-bad (though I find mine a bit more complete). But this hipster article reads like walking across the Green in spring, alone and drunk—boggy, meandering, and dull. Describing hipsterism (much less pillorying it) is a tough assignment, true. But good writers nail the tough assignments.
Skipping over to the editor's corner, I find an essay that is lucidly written, interesting, and well-argued, though a lot is left unstated that I find rather bigoted, to be honest. The point of the editorial is that Jews work harder and are more driven than Latinos, Native Americans and blacks, but because the admission office's focus is on ethnic diversity, Jews get screwed and Latinos, Native Americans and blacks benefit. The writer (still not putting names online, I see) also defends legacies and athletes courageously, but rather ineffectually. Their justification for why some legacies get a helping hand is that such a boost is "a testament to the child-rearing ability of Dartmouth graduates." Amusing, fellas.
Book reviews galore. Many of the books, bores.
Kale Bonger's review of Rick Santorum's It Takes a Family (And State Intervention) is not only good, but it represents the kind of conservative thinking that this country needs. Yeah, you heard me.
Kale skewers Santorum when he says, "The justification for his ideas seems to be that, since Santorum is a self-proclaimed conservative, Americans can trust him with their tax monies: his Great Society-like programs will succeed where Johnson’s did not solely because Santorum is on an opposing ideological side." America needs anti-statist conservatives, and it needs them keeping an eye on morons like Santorum.
However, Kale agrees with Santorum that the family is essentially the best proving ground and factory for morality. I think this is wrong. The most reliable source of morality (or virtue, if you prefer) is the fear of other families, the possibility of shame, and the terror of humiliation. Advertising preys on these things, and so does morality, which is just another kind of advertising. A better, more socially beneficial form, but you're still selling an image—to yourself or to others, it's still a sale.
American troops in Baghdad yesterday blasted their way into the home of an Iraqi journalist working for the Guardian and Channel 4, firing bullets into the bedroom where he was sleeping with his wife and children.
Ali Fadhil, who two months ago won the Foreign Press Association young journalist of the year award, was hooded and taken for questioning. He was released hours later.
Dr Fadhil is working with Guardian Films on an investigation for Channel 4's Dispatches programme into claims that tens of millions of dollars worth of Iraqi funds held by the Americans and British have been misused or misappropriated.
But what if the student didn't need leverage, and didn't need a longer bargaining period? (The edge in getting in is a different matter.) What if Dartmouth pledged—and fulfilled that pledge—to not just "meet demonstrated need" but to actually make it possible for every kid accepted under early decision to come to Dartmouth.
Now that may not be totally economically realistic, but I'm just being hypothetical here. What if Dartmouth made it known that if you apply early and get in, Dartmouth will make sure you have the money you need to enroll the next fall? I think there would be a variety of effects, and most would be positive.
First, more students would apply. Secondly, more highly qualified students would apply, eager just to get the whole circus over with. This means, therefore, that the early decision pool would be more selective. Thirdly, our regular decision pool would be better because it would catch all the wait-listed kids from the better early decision pool. Fourthly, this would likely diversify our applicant pool. Removing the fear of cost as a factor means that more people with more and different reasons to apply to Dartmouth early will all see no reason why not to do so.
Of course, there is the possibility that if we devote a large portion of our endowment (or the profits from the endowment) to making sure all early decision acceptances can enroll in the fall, we may not have as much money for the regular decision applicants. This punishes the indecisive, mainly.
Anyway, just a thought.
January 9, 2006
Today, an alum retorts that "Dartmouth cannot afford to institute early action unless she is prepared for a significant drop in yield." A drop in yield will lead to a drop in rankings, which will lead to a drop in applications from gifted students in the future. Harvard and Yale won't really suffer a drop in yield regardless of whether they have binding early decision or non-binding early action.
The Dartmouth ed board tries to look at the problem from the perspective of the applying student—those freaking out kids have enough to worry about without stressing over binding contracts and the possibility that they won't be able to find enough financial aid once they're in a binding contract. Those are legitimate concerns, certainly.
But what I think is the real problem here is not that we have a binding early decision program, but that we are need-blind, at least in name. I think a college of Dartmouth's caliber and endowment level should not be need-blind, but rather need-sensitive. I think we should actively recruit kids who will be needing significant aid, and although I think we do to some extent, the proof is in the pudding—throw a frisbee across the Green and you'll hit at least five trust fund babies, it seems.
Early decision does seem to make the idea of being need-sensitive problematic—what if we admit too many "needy" students early and don't have enough money for the regular applicants? What if a student is admitted early (and therefore bound) but can't come up with the money required? These are legitimate and real problems, and I don't have any facile solutions. But I genuinely think being need-sensitive is something we should pursue.
January 8, 2006
Well, the film is roughly as little nuanced and as improbable as advertised, but I feel it certainly did overcome whatever limitations that dearth may present. I'm not exactly sure what kind of message director/writer Paul Haggis intends by rewriting Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia as a morality tale about racism, but he did it well.
The cast is almost universally well-chosen (though Brendan Fraser is a little stiff, even for a California wannabe politician and Sandra Bullock's scenes could have taken a bit more pruning or at least a touch of levity—Parker Posey would have been a dream cast in this spot). But the really powerful performances are by actors I had to look up on IMDb. Michael Peña is devastating as a Hispanic locksmith with the cutest little daughter of any film of the decade so far. The entire Iranian family—Bahar Soomekh, Dato Bakhtadze, and Shaun Toub—also grabbed my attention forcefully and poignantly.
A lot has been made of the way Haggis places the language of racism front and center, and shows viscerally how that type of language is connected directly to our actions and our reactions. I think this is certainly the most valuable part of the movie, though if you want an even better examination of this idea, watch Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing.
Will Crash make you a better person? I almost instinctively say no, but I have a strong inclination to say yes. I feel Crash is the answer to people like Joe Malchow who want to all of a sudden put color-blinders on without addressing the inequalities actually present in America and why those inequalities are often tied to racial differences.
Crash, I think, makes it impossible to look at the problems of race without looking at the problems of racism. Conservatives who focus on racial check-boxes and reverse discrimination via affirmative action never like to talk about the racist conditions that have made some people think that those measures are necessary. If I had a dollar for every time someone followed up a statement like "as every living, breathing, hearing, seeing person who has gone through the college admissions process in the past half-century knows, possessing a certain skin tint is a de facto help or hindrance in being accepted, though the process purportedly seeks only merit" with an appeal for more money for inner-city schools, well, I wouldn't have very much money. Those who get all caught up on skin tints miss the point. The questions we should be asking aren't about race. They're about racism.
Many of the problems of racism are distinct from problems about race. Do questions about the genetic nature of race really apply to the actions of a police officer who pulls someone over for driving while black? That action is about power in the same way a jock shoving a nerd into a locker is about power. Or the way a woman gets paid much less than a man for doing the same damn thing. Racism is definitely about race, but it also is simply when we use racial differences as a cover for an abuse of power.
The problems of racism, then, are the problems of how our systems and society allow these abuses of power. How we've used race as a cover for creating imbalances, inequalities, and injustices that perpetuate themselves—that is what needs to be addressed, and it can't be addressed by pretending to be colorblind.
I think that's what is truly great about Crash; it treats racism as something we must all confront, even if we aren't confronted with race. In Indiana, where I haven't seen a person of Middle Eastern descent literally in days, or an Indian since I left Glasgow, I think this message is even more valuable, immediate, and necessary.
I blogged below about Pat Robertson's own philo-Semitism and expressed some reservations similar to those voiced in the WaPo article.
many Jews suspect that evangelicals' support for Israel is rooted in a belief that the return of Jews to the promised land will trigger the Second Coming of Jesus, the battle of Armageddon and mass conversion.However, there are unambiguously benign signs out there that, theologically at least, evangelical Christians are beginning to see Jews as more than just future Christians (or past rejectors/murderers of Christ). "[E]vangelicals are beginning to move away from supersessionism -- the centuries-old belief that with the coming of Jesus, God ended his covenant with the Jews and transferred it to the Christian church."
"That hope is felt and expressed by Christians as a kind, benevolent hope," said [Julie] Galambush, author of "The Reluctant Parting," a new book on the Jewish roots of Christianity. "But believing that someday Jews will stop being Jews and become Christians is still a form of hoping that someday there will be no more Jews."
I'd like to think that evangelicals are learning the meaning of pluralistic harmony, but there is just something about Christians obsessing about Jews that worries me a little.
I suppose it is impossible to tell at this point whether this is an apt comparison, but evangelicals have also recently warmed to Catholicism. But as Franklin Foer points out, evangelicals have more or less drafted Catholic brainpower to articulate their own agenda. I may be a bit sensitive on this issue as a liberal Catholic, but it seems to me that such a relationship is more like a viral infection in the Catholic community than true fellowship. I have my suspicions that evangelicals may intend a similar set-up with Judaism.
(Metafilter has more.)
January 7, 2006
Howl's Moving Castle: Why the rush, Hayao? The plot doesn't even follow a fairy-tale brand of logic.
2046: Wong Kar-Wai will just never equal In the Mood for Love, sorry. Zhang Ziyi, however, shows off some dazzlingly intense acting chops, though.
The Libertine: All the acting is beyond award-worthy; it is downright heroic. The sets are the most majestically lurid depictions of Restoration England ever. Unfortunately, in all the research and acting brio, someone forgot to tell the scriptwriter(/playwright) Stephen Jeffreys that John Wilmot, the Earl of Rochester, played more than memorably by Johnny Depp, was wickedly funny. That the audience misses out on a display of true, ribald brilliance is a tragedy.
Batman Begins: Katie Holmes. 'Nuff said.
Seriously, although this was the best popcorn film of the year by a longshot, there was a slackness in the directing that made the film seem just a bit languid. I think Chris Nolan focused a little too much on making this "dark" and forgot superhero films are supposed to be fun too.
Saraband: Ingmar Bergman's triumphant return to the screen was actually barely a footnote to an unparalleled career.
Wedding Crashers: Did the film-makers forget they casted Christopher Walken? How can you avoid making Christopher Walken funny? Apparently, the film-makers also were under the impression that comedies can be over 2 hours long. Bastards.
Kung Fu Hustle: Stephen Chow, you're just not that cool. Sorry. Maybe I just have something against cartoonish violence in a non-cartoon setting, but I yawned my way through this one.
Broken Flowers: I haven't seen Dead Man yet, but I don't like Jim Jarmusch. The plot and casting of this film is tailor-made for a wise but hilarious romp, but it feels more like a slog through a series of fuzzily conceived trailer quotes. Seriously, watch the trailer, all the best parts are in there. I don't think there was a single other film this year with more wasted potential.
March of the Penguins:
January 6, 2006
Anyway, give him a look. He's already got a few entries up so far, and I'm sure he'll have more coming soon.
Pat Robertson: God kicked Ariel Sharon's ass for being nice to Palestinians
Well, he didn't say so in so many words, but... Actually, what he said was:
"He was dividing God's land, and I would say, 'Woe unto any prime minister of Israel who takes a similar course to appease the [European Union], the United Nations or the United States of America'... God says, 'This land belongs to me, and you'd better leave it alone'...In the book of Joel, the prophet Joel makes it very clear that God has ‘enmity against those who divide My land.’ God considers this land to be His. When you read the Bible, He said this is my land. For any Prime Minister of Israel who decides he will carve it up and give it away, God said, 'No, this is Mine.'"In an encyclical on the Christian Broadcasting Network website, Robertson tells us that Evangelical Christians "are with you [Israel] in your struggle. We are with you as a wave of anti-Semitism is engulfing the earth." (Robertson, it should be noted, is unafraid of irony.)
However, he says, "It is very hard for your friends to support you, if you make a conscious decision to destroy yourselves." The reason? As Dr. J. Rodman (also of CBN) warns: "the end will not occur without Israel's coming to salvation...there will finally be such a fullness of Israel when their hardness and blindness to the gospel is overcome as to vastly enrich the whole world. For the almost unbelievable truth is that all Israel will be saved. The fullness of Gentiles will climax with the fullness of Israel." Jews in Israel apparently have to hang around long enough for us Christians to convert them at the end of time before Jesus comes back and wastes the homosexuals and Democrats among us.
So basically, evangelical Christians think they're in a 'friends with benefits' relationship with Israel—'We'll call you when we want a fuck. Until then, stay unattached and disease-free.' Except most friends with benefits relationships don't also have a wrath of God component as well. Huh.
P.S. Check out Robertson's answer to the question "What does it mean that the United States is not mentioned in "end of the world " prophetic scenarios?" If that doesn't destroy the notion of literal Biblical hermeneutics, I don't know what does. Robertson twists the Bible into a pretzel shoehorning the States into the end-times: "In Ezekiel, there is a reference to the "young lions of Tarshish looking on" while there seems to be an invasion of Israel by Gog and Magog, the people to the north of Israel. Tarshish was a seaport town along the Atlantic Ocean, not far from what is now Cadiz, Spain. Settlers from Tarshish went to England and to Ireland, and it is believed that some of them eventually made their way to the United States. As such, "the young lions of Tarshish" could apply to America."
January 5, 2006
The only way to defeat racism is to stop talking about it. I am going to stop calling you a white man and I’m going to ask you to stop calling me a black man.Joe Malchow waxes (and waxes and waxes) grandiloquent about this quote, but I won't pause to sigh over his lead-heavy metaphors. The content of Joe's post is sigh-worthy enough.
When I was a young boy, I didn’t know there was racism. Then I learned that there was racism, and it occured to me rather speedily that the best way to end racism would be to stop practicing racism. Unfortunately, the more misguided elements in our society have decided to take a different tack.What Joe's soliloquy amounts to is irritation—irritation that race confronts him when applying to college or in the professional world. Irritation, in other words, specifically at "reverse discrimination." (I personally feel that those who complain the most about reverse discrimination secretly believe that whites are the only race that simply should never be discriminated against.) He seeks to remove that irritation by removing it from those worlds—academic, professional, and in the all-too-odd world of alumni relations. What he is utterly blind to is that those worlds are not all-encompassing.
We don't have racial self-identification check-boxes or official "historically marginalized group" status in our personal lives in any non-figurative sense. We live without personal waivers stating that we are a disadvantaged minority or cards like country club memberships proclaiming our whiteness. We don't need to—names, check-boxes, waivers are all hardly necessary to articulate between private persons. And because the professional, academic, and alumni worlds rest on personal interactions and because the personal world intrudes, obtrudes, and often obscures those other worlds, we cannot just concentrate real hard altogether and let racism just evaporate. It won't.
Take a look at the institution that is supposed to be the most fair, colorblind, and impartial in America—the court of law. Do I even need to find some statistics to illustrate the blatant racism of our "colorblind" policies at work? Can I send you a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird? It's oh-so-middle-school, but it depicts a real problem in America, and not just in the South, or in the past, but here and now, in New Jersey, in California, in Indiana, in New York, all over.
Seriously, if all it took was Joe's method—"the best way to end racism would be to stop practicing racism"—then you don't think men and women much smarter than Joe or I would have figured out a way to get that done? Joe suggests that it is liberals who are standing in the way of his beautiful plan to route racism and establish a world of peace and harmony. I find that to be a politically-driven evasion of anything meaningful about the question of race, but I just want to say one thing about this "solution."
I don't think Joe, or many other people who echo his solution, would be quite so eager to adapt that solution to war, for instance. "The best way to end war would be to stop practicing war." If Joe said that, he'd be the kind of soft liberal he derides. If he said that, he'd be soft on defense, soft on terrorism, soft on rogue nations and cagey superpower-wannabes. He'd be soft on Ahminedijad, on Kim Jong-Il, on Saddam, on Qaddafi.
My point is not that we should extend the Bush Doctrine into the problem of racism, because I don't think there are two opposing camps in the effort to end racism—those who want to end racism and those who don't. That white-black kind of thinking is exactly the kind that creates racism.
My point is instead that wishing a problem—like war, famine, genocide, poverty, racism, disease, a nuclear arms race—away is about as reasonable as believing as a fifth-grader that if your entire class refused to do homework forever, the teacher would just stop giving it.