Strange Brouhaha

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Chinese To Buy Local American Utilities

The better to control our economy and our grid, my dear.

Hail To Our Brave, Manly College Republihawks

You see, they'd *love* to go fight in Iraq, but they're too busy performing other extremely vital acts of national service like walking four abreast across campus with the word "BUSH" spelled out letter by letter on their chests, and being "a fighter...with words." ("I know I'm going to be [more effective] staying here," elaborated the manly and macho Republican in question, and I am sure that your basic seasoned lifer sergeant would heartily agree with him.) Besides, they just got into a really great business school.

There is nothing more pathetic than watching nakedly self-deluded people brag about themselves ("We're the big guys"). This isn't a political party, it's a therapy group for grandiose narcissists that's missing its facilitator. ("What's that? You say you've got a 'nagging shoulder injury'? Do you think nagging shoulder injuries are a bar to service? Do you think nobody in the army ever hurt their shoulder? I'd like to hear an answer on this, young man...") Funny thing that Republicans love to complain about the inculcation of self-esteem among schoolchildren, because when they open their yaps, they demonstrate that they themselves are the very disease which they fear: spoiled, outrageously self-loving babies who think they're men because they walk around with "BUSH" written on their chest.

Save me.

Batman Begins

(Warning: Minor spoilers ahead, although they're mostly backstory spoilers, so this warning is primarily intended for people who aren't familiar with Batman. The one big spoiler has a warning attached.)

Holy crap.

No, I mean it: holy crap. Seriously.

There have been a lot of different takes on the Bat over the years. Every new writer, every new artist, brings something new to Batman in the comics. Every actor who plays him brings something, even Adam West. Even Val Kilmer. Every director brings something, although I wish that Joel Schumacher would have left his something at home.

What Christopher Nolan and David Goyer and Christian Bale have created is nothing short of...well, it's almost perfect in every way. Here's the take-home, no matter what else I say: I really loved this movie, and it's really, really good.

The acting was, I thought, really good. Gary Oldman, in essentially a throw-away role as Officer/Sgt./Lt. Jim Gordon, was FANTASTIC. I don't have the superlatives to describe it, really. He just kind of takes That Gary Oldman Thing and turns it on its head and is just...look, he's good. Michael Caine was a great choice to play Alfred, and he and Christian Bale really nail the relationship between Alfred and Bruce. Liam Neeson's Dark Side Qui-Gon Jinn was great. Morgan Freeman took his nothing role and fashioned it into a something role. Christian Bale was fine, but his best scenes came when he played against one of those guys, almost as if he was only as good as the actors around him: when he played against Katie Holmes, let's just say that the superlatives weren't flying.

The writing was good, too. They very nearly perfectly nailed the character of Batman, and while there were some problems with glaringly obvious plot devices in the script, the fact that I can't remember any specifically right now must count for something.

Visually, it was incredible. (I need to head to the thesaurus or something; this is like pointing, drooling and saying "Gooooooood!" in my best Patrick Star impression.) This is a very scary movie, especially when the Scarecrow's fear gas is in effect. Batman himself is absolutely terrifying in places, like when we see him from the point of view of a criminal and the camera is shaking and Batman is yelling...good stuff. And Gotham City is stunning as well, far better than Tim Burton's Gotham, which itself was excellent. This one is much more fully realized: you get the sense that it's a city, rather than a collection of big, dark canyons.

Even the sound is superb. I don't usually comment on the sound in movies; the last time I said to myself "Holy cow, the sound is great!" was when we saw "Titanic." The scene where Bruce's parents get killed is absolutely gut-wrenching, in large part due to the gunshot FX.

I have two complaints about the movie.

The first one is that it should have been better. Remember how I said the acting was good? It was, and the actors all turned in credible performances. But when you have this much acting power in your movie, it just seems to me that you should get to do more with it. I'm not sure what the solution would be, or if there is one, but it felt like the varsity turning in a JV performance, the functional equivalent of somehow getting Robert DeNiro to be in your student film and having him sit and do nothing. I just felt that there should have been more. It's a strange mixture of disappointment and elation. In a sense, that means it's a success for Nolan and his crew, because they left me wanting more.

My second complaint is a spoiler. I will make the text white; if you want to read it, just highlight the next paragraph.

There is one aspect of Batman's character that Hollywood pretty consistently gets wrong, and it's a pretty major one: Batman Does Not Kill. Furthermore, if he can help it, he doesn't allow people to die through his own inaction. Not even his enemies. It was a complete and total disappointment when he said to Ra's Al Ghul, "I'm not going to kill you. But I don't have to save you," and then let him die in the train. This is the big reason why I keep saying that the movie is "nearly" perfect.

Now for the big question: would I recommend that you go see this movie?

If you like Batman, yes. Absolutely. I recommend this without hesitation. If you are a fan, you should pretty much love this movie. But be forewarned that it's very, very intense. If you're a fan of Adam West's Batman, but not Frank Miller's Dark Knight, then you're in for a rough two hours. This movie is very much in the mold of the much-mocked "grim-n-gritty" early '90s general trend in comics; I don't mind loud, banging action movies, but this had even me flinching in places. It's very, very heavy, very intense. If you're particularly sensitive, skip it.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Prehistory vs. Comprehension

I'm reading Norman Davies' "The Isles: A History" right now. Most of the Introduction dealt with the difficulties of nomenclature for anyone wishing to be precisely correct when writing a history of Great Britain, or the United Kingdom, or England--all three of which are distinct political entities. No problem there, really. As long as you establish first principles and a frame of reference, which Davies does, there's really not a problem. Great Britain is x, the U.K. is y, and England is z. We can proceed.

Fairly early in the book, though, when dealing with the prehistory of The Isles (a remarkably clever way, I think, of solving the conundrum of Exactly What To Call The Place), we get this:

Eight thousand years ago is too far back for prehistorians to know anything about the Peninsula's languages or place names. Alphabets were not yet invented. No words or voices were recorded. Not surprisingly, therefore, prehistorians have fallen into the habit of calling the most ancient places by the most modern names....[I]t puts prehistory into a false, totally anachronistic, and frequently nationalistic context. A little historical imagination might reconstruct some more realistic solutions. The somewhat mythological ring of invented names is a small price to pay if one is to avoid the cardinal sin of anachronism.

This is fine, if you already know a bit about British (sorry, Mr. Davies) history and the geography of the British (sorry again) isles. If you don't, though, it's a disaster. I think part of the reason that historians do refer to ancient places by their modern names is so that we know just where they're talking about, and if we're fortunate enough to have seen these places for ourselves, either in photographs or in person, or even just to have heard of them, we have some context. For example, if you're talking about dinosaurs roaming in the area of what is now Butte, Montana, you've just placed the big lizards in context. Sure, the dinos may not have said to each other, "Hey, Montana is nice!" but at least we know where they were.

Davies' insistence on not naming places by their modern names when discussing prehistorical Britain (sorry) is just confusing. It's nice and imaginative, for certain, and I agree that it is "not unreasonable to assume...that prehistoric people would have named the principle features of the landscape after what they saw." But when he calls upon us to imagine generations of hunters camping "atop the high cliff which commands the southern shore of the Southern Straits," that's just going to elicit a big "huh?" from a lot of readers. Later on, when he talks about "undulating white cliffs," I understand he means Dover. But I don't see "Eight Sisters" and "Grey Nose Head" on any map, and it sure would be nice to know what he's talking about.

There are other examples--where the heck is "The Afternoon Country?"--but I think you get the point.

Update: Savannah read this after I posted it and said "Gosh, you'd think that there'd be some kind of key, at the very least." So I looked in the back of the book and, uh...that would be in Appendix 3. But damn it, I think the point still holds. (And it would have been nice to see "See Appendix 3" at least once in there.) By the way, this is a good book.

Minor change...leading to major change. You know, maybe.

You'll notice that I changed my profile name to just plain old "Rob." I've been reading about customizing the layout of the blog, and quickly realized that a two-word profile name might cause problems. See, the layout is all CSS-based, and style names for authors are based on the author's profile name.

Now, I'm sure that there's a way to do a multi-word CSS style. Maybe the system deals with it by taking out spaces. Maybe I should mess around with it first. But it's far easier to just change my profile name. No muss, no fuss.

So there may be some changes in the site layout in the near future. My first goal will be to differentiate visually between my posts and Savannah's.

I'm also getting involved (possibly) with another blogging project, so that profile name may change yet again. Who knows.

Update: Now it's just plain old "Robert." And if you're at all interested in the playwright's group I joined, keep tabs on Not much there yet (in fact, only one thing) but I'm sure there will be.

Friday, June 24, 2005

A Reason To Keep Batteries In Your Digital Camera

We're all sitting around watching television--well, Lani and I are--when Savannah comes over and whispers to me that I should look at the squirrels on the back porch because "they're either killing each other or having group sex."

I have no idea what these squirrels were doing...but let's just say I saw no evidence of killing.

I really wish I could share a picture with you.

For God's Sake, Shut Up

Sit through a brief ad and then discover the latest on the apparently never-ending Tom Cruise anti-psychiatry rampage. I am in shock. What a dogmatic, intolerant, bullying asshole! I'm surprised the Bush Administration hasn't hired him yet. Here he is, ranting on national television that he "knows" anti-depressants are wrong and psychiatry is a "pseudo-science" and that everyone can be cured through vitamins and exercize. He was totally rigid and inflexible in his attitudes and unwilling to listen to anyone who claimed to have been helped by these things. When Matt Lauer insisted that Brooke Shields had been helped by therapy and drugs, and "if [it] worked...isn't that OK?", Cruise replied, "I disagree with it." When you think about it, that's scary. What would he do if he had the power? Would he go so far as to deny her her meds or stop her from seeing her therapist?

If Tom Cruise has to get so damn mad about something, can't he pick something BAD to get mad about, like genital mutilation or human trafficking or hunger or poverty? Does he have to keep beating up on one woman who made a personal choice for her life?


Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Lost Scout Lost For A Reason!

That lost scout, in Utah, is pretty good at hiding. Of course, we can all chuckle at this now that he's safe: one reason that he stayed lost for four days is that he hid from searchers because his parents had told him never to talk to strangers.

It's a tough dilemma for parents, trying to teach your kid not to talk to strangers, but at the same time to teach him to for God's sake get HELP if he's lost.

100 Years, 100 Movie Quotes

We probably talked about this earlier, when the ballots were sent out, but last night the American Film Institute released its list of the top 100 movie quotes. When we turned the program on, they had just started the top 40.

At that point, I said to Savannah, "If 'Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn' isn't at number one, something is wrong with the universe." Fortunately (not to spoil the fun) all is right with the universe. I was going to complain about the inclusion of some of the quotes, but from the standpoint of the criteria outlined at the bottom of the list, they're all reasonably good.

Humorous anecdote: when Jean Firstenberg came on and said that Casablanca had six quotes on the list, we tried to figure out what they were. We came up with five; when they came to the quote at number 5, I wanted to put a knife through my head, because that was the one we couldn't think of. You know, only the most famous line from the movie, the stuff that a thousand bad Humphrey Bogart impressions are made of. (Heh heh.) (Well, actually, it's the most famous line from the movie that's actually IN the movie.) (Speaking of bad impressions, the Garbo line that launched a thousand bad Garbo impressions had no "v" in "vant" whatsoever.) (Had enough parentheses?)

Ooh, I actually do have a complaint. What would an entry from me be without a complaint? (I'm not sure I want to know the answer.) "I have always depended on the kindness of strangers" shouldn't count as a movie quote. It's a great theater quote, one that you use to identify "Streetcar" to legions of theater-goers. Feel free to correct me, but that quote entered the American consciousness via the stage, not the screen--which is why I'm not saying the same thing about "You can't handle the truth" (assuming that that line is in the original play, of course).

And a complaint about the show: they showed the secret of Rosebud, the end of Citizen Kane! Now, you could argue that if you don't KNOW about Rosebud by this point then something's wrong, and your case would probably be pretty convincing. I mean, who would be watching this that hasn't seen Citizen Kane, right? But shouldn't blow one of the greatest reveals in movie history.

It was fun to watch the show, because among other things I was trying to figure out the famous quote before they actually played it. Didn't do that well :/

Tuesday, June 21, 2005


That thud you just heard was the sound of me dying.

I present to you a link from the AP via truthout on the manslaughter verdict in the Killen case, the so-called "Mississippi Burning" trial.

Note that while the prosecutors wanted to send a message to the world that "Mississippi has changed," the defense apparently had exactly the opposite goal. Take special care to read the remarks at the end of the article.

Does It Start Here?

What's the line between ordinary assholia and a genuine ominous shift in the social contract? The Rude Pundit does his usual scathing job on the Republicans who forced John Conyers into an inadequate room for his hearings and the Post writer who openly ridiculed the proceedings. But where are we headed? Is this just a case of Republicans being a bunch of jerks (again), or is this another step on the road to changing the nature of what government means in our country? John Conyers was raising evidence of potential high crimes and misdemeanors, in his legitimate capacity as a Congressman. If he can be marginalized and ridiculed for that, then we've already got the psychology that there's a ruling party in this country. He's not in it, so he doesn't count. *Because* he is a Democrat, he is a loser in a broom closet playing chairman. Ha-ha.

The thing is, where are we going? In "Why I Left African Studies," Gavin Kitching paints an appalling portrait of post-colonial decline across the African continent. He basically comes to the conclusion that the "governing elites" of the continent just don't give a shit. About anything, that is, except themselves. They've smothered all dissent, and they've created the greedy context in which multinationals take outrageous amounts of profit and fail to pay living wages and so on. They benefit from it themselves.

Kitching's only mistake, in my opinion, is assuming that this must have something to do with the culture of sub-Saharan Africa. Greed knows no boundaries, my friend. The misery in Africa is indeed epic, but has Kitching taken a look at Bolivia or Ecuador lately? Or thought about the water privatization scheme against which those citizens have been struggling in desperation? (You see, Bolivia might be South America's poorest country, but it's apparently not poor ENOUGH, so the good folks at Bechtel and Abenoga figured they'd better start making them pay if they wanted to drink.)

Don't think it can't happen here, as we sit paralyzed by propaganda while our wages stagnate and our pensions are stolen. While Democrats are put in little rooms off to the side and derided as "playmates" playing a "dress-up game." This didn't just come out of nowhere. It's all the result of a long trend. How much further will the trend go? Until the roads are too potholed to drive on, like Kenya, but it's okay because we don't own cars anyway? And our children hope that a nice Indian or Chinese person will decide to pay a dollar a day for their schooling through an agency?

Don't laugh. The African continent used to be the richest on earth.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Hacker Or Snacker?

I got 9/10 on the Programming Language Inventor Or Serial Killer? quiz. I have to admit, I didn't know who any of these guys were (with one obvious exception, who I nonetheless didn't recognize) and I just went on my gut instinct.

Good times. (Thanks to my dad for sending it along.)

A Brief Complaint

I use Apple's for email. As mail applications go, it's okay. I'm happy enough with it that I'm not looking for something else to use, unlike, say, the Terminal or Safari.

Anyway, my complaint is...this is a piece of software written by Apple. It was presumably written by people with access to Apple Computers. It was presumably tested by people with access to Apple Computers. Please explain why doesn't respond to the fn key on my iBook keyboard. I can't use page up, page down, home, or end in Mail. This makes writing and editing mail an adventure.

I should send them a bug report.

Update: 8:10 AM
Bah. Home/End sends the cursor to the beginning/ending line of the message. The functionality I'm looking for is provided by Command-arrow.

(You want to know what's worse? I think I already knew that. I probably shouldn't be sending email or complaining about stuff this early in the morning.)

(No, seriously...I was writing up a bug report and was editing the text and when I needed to get to the end of the line from the middle, I hit cmd-arrow without even thinking about it. I promptly logged out of the bug tracker and put my head through a wall.)

Friday, June 17, 2005

More On Spong

Man, this is a great book. His central thesis is that early Christianity was all about change, the change from being Jews trying to reform Judaism, the change from non-creed-based worship to creed-based faith (and the section on the development of the Nicene Creed was unaccountably fascinating), the changes wrought in the stories told about Jesus...and ultimately the change into hidebound, hierarchichal authority.

Change or die, he says baldly.

Christianity must face itself and change. Bible-based certainty is a load of crap (he says it much more nicely) and our society's understanding of it must change. Historically, the first few centuries of Christianity were very fluid and dynamic, and it must be able to return to that state or face irrelevance.

I can't wait for the followup book he promises.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Spong's "The Sins Of Scripture"

Ever been blown out of your chair by a book on religion?

Me either, until now. I'm about halfway through John Shelby Spong's latest book, "The Sins Of Scripture," wherein he takes on the relative handful of verses in the Bible that have been used across the centuries to oppress and vilify, chews them up, and spits them out.

Spong calls for nothing less than...well, it boils down to a new Reformation: set aside the notion that the Bible is the literal "Word of God," set aside old theistic views in favor of more naturalistic ones, come to a new understanding of the true meaning of Scripture. As I said, I'm only halfway through the book, so I'm unable as yet to fully articulate this call, but so far it's compelling.

This is (so far) and incredibly powerful, radical call for the reclamation of the Bible and of religion from the hands of people who would use it to destroy.

(I bought this book because I read a review of it in the NYT which made it sound interesting--but not nearly as interesting as it actually is. I'm going to have to hit the Web to find other reviews of this book; I can't imagine it has been received well in the Catholic and Evangelical communities, which he takes to task regularly. Also, among other things, he repeats and supports the contention that Mary Magdalene was the wife of Jesus, and he advances the new-to-me notion that Paul was a closeted homosexual.)

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

My worst vice, if you can even call it a vice, is buying reading material and then failing to read it. I'm fairly sure that I could dig up, on short notice, magazines that I bought two years ago and have yet to read. I am absolutely confident that I can produce at least one book that I bought myself at Christmas 2003 that I have yet to even open. It may even date back to Christmas 2002. (For the curious, it is the final Quiller book, "Quiller Balalaika," which Adam Hall was in the process of writing when he died. Say, are you supposed to refer to pseudonymous authors by their pseudonyms after they die? Should I have said Elleston Trevor, instead?)

I bought Susanna Clarke's "Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell" for myself last Christmas. I would have been willing to swear that I bought it at Christmas 2003, except for the fact that the book was published in September 2004--it just seems like I've had the darn thing forever. I just finished it yesterday, after several months of picking it up and putting it back down again, reading a hundred pages and then getting bored with it. No, bored isn't really the right word: this is not a boring book by any stretch of the imagination. What it is, at least for me, is the kind of book you can put down for a couple of weeks without stress, without wondering what's going to happen next.

Clarke's writing is dense and detailed. It's sort of like reading Dickens, but interesting. The prose is very evocative of mid-nineteenth century England, but in the same breath very modern. It's also very episodic, hence my being able to put the book down for weeks at a time. This is a good thing, but a bad thing as well: it makes the book "okay" as opposed to "holy crap, this is great!" There are large swaths of text that, to me at least, could have been excised without affecting the plot or characterization. In fact, there's a parallel here with Hugo's "Les Miserables." When the Hugo work is released in abridged editions, the abridgement is usually the removal of the twelve thousand pages on the battle of Waterloo. When I read "Les Miserables," I read an unabridged version, and those thirty thousand pages were murder to slog through.

It's not that I mind long books, either. It's just that I think most of the Napoleonic war episodes in this book could have been skipped. YMMV of course.

The NYT Book Review said of this book that it was "Harry Potter" for grown-ups. I don't buy it. They are not similar in style, substance, tone or content. Where I see the Potter books as summaries of a larger and more interesting story than Rowling is able to tell, Clarke's world is more fully realized and this novel is actually a novel. Neil Gaiman, quoted on the back cover of the book, says that this is "[u]nquestionably the finest English novel of the fantastic written in the last seventy years," a very strong statement when you consider that it encompasses the works of Tolkien and Lewis. I'm not a connoisseur of English fantasy, so I'll let others debate the point, but I will say that I like this book a lot better than "The Lord of the Rings."

I finished the book with a big smile on my face--the ending was as satisfying as it was abrupt. It's kind of disconcerting, to me, to have a novel kind of meander about for over seven hundred pages before showing any sign of wrapping up, and to have such a short payoff after that, but it actually works well: everything is said that needs to be, everything happens that needs to, and we can be done.

Is the journey worth taking? Yes and no. Like I said earlier, it could have been shorter. It could have been tighter. In some ways, the sprawl works for it, and in others, it works against. On the other hand, it is worth it to see the way that Clarke takes the sprawl that she has created and ties it all together into a neat little package in the last thirty pages: everything flows to that point.

Overall, I'd recommend borrowing it from the library and renewing it as needed. Or waiting for the paperback edition, if you've got some spare dough. It's definitely not "un-putdown-able," and if you're like me, you'll find yourself more than able to put it down for weeks at a time.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Economic Inequality

I found this link in a Nation post. I haven't had time to check it out yet, but it is dedicated to exposing and fighting the widening inequality in our society. No Ethiopias in America!! (And no Ethiopias in Ethiopia either--force investors to give African nations a decent share of the profits from the mines and wells!!) (Yeah, I said it could never be done a couple of posts ago. But I also said, that's no reason to stop trying!)

"Next Food Network Star"

The Food Network is holding a contest to see who will be its next "star." I stumbled across the show accidentally last night and became morbidly fascinated.

Food Network has selected eight finalists to attend a kind of Food TV boot camp with elimination rounds. The finalists have to pitch their show idea and cook under pressure (regardless of whether their show is supposed to feature them cooking or not!). Three Food Network executives watch, judge and eliminate.

None of the contestants appeared to have EITHER professional cooking experience OR media experience. The results were cruel. Watching them try to follow their "breakdowns" (cooking scripts), read from the TelePrompTer, keep track of the person with the time cards, wrangle their food, AND act like they were having fun was agonizing. All of them looked panicked, as any sane amateur would who was being asked to do two very difficult and inherently conflicting jobs at the same time. They made massive, boneheaded mistakes. A candidate cut herself seriously--and had to confess this to the hardened professional Mario Batali, who in a sense made the humiliation even worse by NOT chewing her out or laughing at her. A pairs team set their grill on fire. (One partner, who was supposed to be the expert!, made a marinade for some shish kebabs that turned out thick as spaghetti sauce. He ladled it on regardless, then set the sauced-up kebabs on the grill, where they promptly began to smoke up the whole studio. He took them off the grill--leaving the leftover dribs of thick sauce to burst into flame.) One woman was supposed to be making a salad with edamame and grilled corn. She forgot her corn back on the prep grill and hadn't been able to shell her edamame. She covered for the corn, but was unable to disguise the fact that there was no edamame in her edamame salad. It was a full-out train wreck.

To make matters worse, their show ideas were almost all pitifully derivative, impractical or vague. One contestant wanted her show to be about the five senses. (Enough said.) Another proposed a diet show. A third proposed a show where he would travel around finding great and heartwarming food--which is already the premise of "Roker on the Road," "The Secret Life Of...", "FoodNation with Bobby Flay," "Eat America," "Tyler Florence's America" (or whatever it's called), and "The Best Of." The pairs team who set their grill on fire proposed a show about entertaining in the home. One woman wanted to host a variety show with food and live music, which she imagined would attract top-name celebrities as guests. One man imagined that his show would take him to the Andes and the Himalayas and Borneo in search of amazing food experiences. (Had he given any thought whatever to the budget and the taping difficulties such a premise would involve?) One contestant had already been eliminated by the time I started watching. Finally, there was a man who proposed a show about "difficult foods" like squid and tripe and so on--learning to appreciate, cook and enjoy them. At least that one was original, specific and doable, although, as the Food Network marketing person pointed out, its premise was inherently negative ("Now, you're probably grossed out by these tentacles, BUT...").

This, folks, THIS, is why television is inherently evil. Because it does this to people. It beckons forth the unprepared, the amateurish, the unrealistic, the people who have never cooked professionally or done media and who have no idea what a food show really involves or how to think of one that the Food Network hasn't done to death already, yet who sail blithely forth to international humiliation anyhow. The worst part is when they all tell the camera that they know, they just KNOW, that they're doing fantastic or that they deserve their own show.

And the people who made up this contest knew that this would happen.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Isn't that implied in the NAME?

Another braindead headline from CNN: ADHD adults struggle to focus. I mean, isn't that like saying "Water remains wet" or something? It really makes me oooooh, look, bright shiny things.

Dead...or Alive?

I was browsing CNN when I came across a report that Pink Floyd will be playing a live gig for a charity concert, Live 8. This is their first concert in 24 years that includes Roger Waters. When I told Savannah this, she wondered if the gig would include poor, insane Syd Barrett. I allowed as to how Syd was dead. Savannah disagreed.

Enter Dead or Alive?, a search engine that was able to answer our question. (A quick read of the Syd Barrett FAQ would have revealed the same information...but only for Syd.) It's up to date, too. I searched for the most recently deceased celebrity I could think of, Dana Elcar from MacGyver, and sure enough...dead. (Anne Bancroft, too.)

It's neat.

Beethoven a Hooligan!

Did he ruin classical music? Did he turn it from a vigorous, playful, outer-directed form into a wallow of megalomania and bloodlust? Was he Anakin Skywalker to Mozart's Captain Kirk? (Mozart, after all, had happy and frequent sexual adventures, while I think Beethoven was all tortured n' shit with the unrequited love. Maybe I should look that up. What I know about Beethoven consists of three minutes of watching Gary Oldman in period costume stalk around angrily on TV while a voice-over rants about not wanting his Many Enemies to discover that he's deaf.)

The interesting thing is that you can see similar trajectories happening in American popular music too, both overall, AND within the careers of individual bands. It seems like everything always starts out happy and clear, then goes all Beethoven. Star Wars (admittedly NOT a piece of music) started out as an adventure and ended as a claustrophobic tragedy. American popular music started out cheerful, playful, hedonistic, winking ("Beat Me, Daddy, Eight To The Bar"), and then rock n' roll kind of jolted everyone, but *it* turned out to be cheerful, playful, hedonistic and winking too compared to what came next (I give you Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin). And then you've got the Beatles, who started out (yep) cheerful, playful, hedonistic and winking, and ended up all "Happiness is a Warm Gun."

Are there any examples of the reverse? Careers or genres that started out angsty and then lightened up?

Downing Street Part II

As if we needed *more* evidence that Bush lied our way to war, there is now a briefing paper leaked from Britain revealing that Blair and Bush privately decided on "regime change" in April 2002 (a time when publicly they were denying this). It was a paper saying that Britain therefore needed to "create the conditions" that would make the war legal...because it wasn't.

I think the words of Martina McBride are appropriate: "Roll the stone away, let the guilty pay, it's Independence Day."

Friday, June 10, 2005

See? See? SEE??

Naomi Klein:


And make no mistake: they want us in the US to end up like that someday too. So that they can be just that much unspeakably richer.

(So, Klein's against Make Poverty History too, because she wants the bulk of the profits from all the "oil...gas, diamond, gold, platinum, chromium, ferroalloy and coal wealth" IN Africa to go TO the Africans. She somehow has the idea that this can be made to happen. A pleasant dream. Myself, I don't think any of us will ever see it. I think we're going to have to scrape by with chump-change plans like History, and even those will fail because they threaten the multinationals too much. But, y'know. No reason to stop trying.)


John Cory on Howard Dean.

I have so many favorite lines in here, I'd have to reprint the whole article.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Quote of the Day

From Katha Pollitt:

"As long as a believer ascribes his views to his faith, he can say anything he wants, and if you don't like it, you're the bigot."

Oh, And

See what I mean about profiting from poverty? That's what the pension squeeze is all about! Why are corporations dumping worker pensions and the Bushies underfunding the emergency pension fund and trying to throw Social Security to Wall Street? Because CEOs and high-level investors make MONEY off of dumping worker pensions and getting Social Security accounts! All across the board, that's how it works. Stagnant wages, the upward transfer of wealth, increased poverty (which is just another way of saying "the upward transfer of wealth")...the continued appalling poverty in the Third World...IT LINES PEOPLE'S POCKETS. The Bushies would love nothing better than for us to end up like Ethiopians, because all the money we lose would go to THEM. That is how it works. That is why this upward transfer of wealth is going on here at home, and why efforts to restore wealth to the Third World poor keep failing. Because The Man wants to get it for himself, and once he got it, he ain't lettin' it go.

WAKE UP!! everybody.

Not that I know what the hell can be done, outside of electing a lot of Democrats and then starting to elect a lot of *real* Democrats, and then getting control of the World Bank and engineering debt relief for all debtor nations and encouraging social spending and all that stuff that's never going to happen. And put down the pitchforks; peasant rebellions just make things worse. In fact, that's probably the explanation for the whole mess. The social-democratic movements of the 20th century (labor, women's, black, civil rights) were essentially peasant rebellions. (I think I said that before, actually, but I can't find it.) And now comes payback. Now they make us wish we'd kept our mouths shut. Now they make us long for the days of Jim Crow, six-day workweeks, and sex-segregated help wanted ads.

Buckle up, gonna be quite a ride.

Hope You Weren't Planning On Retiring

...At least, not by choice. I mean, after all, nobody really WANTS 77-year-old employees, so you'll still be out of the workforce. But, uh, forget about that pension. And if the Bushies get their way (god forbid), you can forget about Social Security too.

I'm not sure what the Bushies expect old people to do. They're not going to have the money to retire, but they're not going to be competitive in the squeezed, downturned job market either. This is going to destroy their dignity--and throw yet another financial burden on families, who, besides coping with stagnant wages and (very often) no health insurance and the needs of their kids, will now (what other option is there?) have to take care of their parents too.

What year was this again? I'm sorry, I thought it was TWO THOUSAND five, not NINETEEN oh five. My mistake. Well, excuse me, I have to go tighten up my whalebone corset and get a new inkwell.

Where Do I Start?

Okay, so there's a campaign out called "Make Poverty History." Brad Pitt plugged it in his Primetime Live interview two nights ago in which he made Diane Sawyer visit Ethiopia in exchange for being allowed to ask him about Angelina Jolie. (And by the way, that link is a REALLY smart and insightful piece of media analysis by Dana Stevens.) Anyhow, Make Poverty History is a campaign to halve the number of people in extreme poverty by the year 2015 (and eliminate extreme poverty completely ten to twenty years after that).

Now here's this individual writing in spiked-online who says that we should reject Make Poverty History because its goals are too SMALL. Merely ensuring basic food, shelter, clothing, and sanitation for the Third World is not enough, says Brendan O'Neill. Development by micro-loans merely serves to make Third World poor people resigned to their fate. "Real" industrial development is needed and should be our goal.

Uh...yeah. Look. Considering that the rich nations won't even pony up enough cash TO provide subsistence-level food, shelter, clothing, micro-loans, etcetera for the Fucked of the World, how exactly are we going to find the funds to develop INDUSTRY for them? By looking under the couch? Plus, ain't no rich country on earth gonna hand over the means by which Ethiopia and Laos could become economic competitors. We're having enough trouble with China, India and Iran. And China, India, and Iran, still pulling themselves up by their bootstraps, might have something to say about it too (such as, "Fuck no, we're not letting Ethiopia cut into our market share!!").

I mean, obviously, yes, it would be much better if Laos and Ethiopia could seriously develop industry. But given the ongoing human emergency in the Third World, we really do need to aim low. Even aiming low is aiming too high. I bet you an overpriced latte that Make Poverty History will fail, and twenty years from now, someone is going to come along singing the exact same song ("We can ELIMINATE poverty IN OUR LIFETIMES!!") that people have been singing since the Peace Corps (remember the Peace Corps?) and the original Live Aid (when we were ALSO going to eliminate extreme poverty). In both cases--Peace Corps and Live Aid--it was well within the realm of possibility to meet that goal. We HAD the resources back then the same as we do now. And we failed.

Because you know what? Hyper-rich people PROFIT from poverty. They do. It's that simple. And the people who REALLY control the world like things just the way they are. So the World Bank is going to go right on blocking any truly EFFECTIVE anti-poverty campaigns (i.e. spending by the governments of these countries on health, family planning, and education) and then blaming socialism. And claiming that if those slacker poor countries would just cut the rest of whatever public spending remains to them, and put more money to their international debts and their expatriate bondholders, poverty would magically disappear.

So nothing will change.

Here's hoping I'm wrong.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

An Interesting Problem

I saw an article, via Slashdot, from Wired about protecting Torahs from theft. As you'll see if you read the article, it's an inherently difficult thing. You can't stick a label on it, you can't write your name on it. You can't barcode it.

Of the two systems discussed in the article, I think the JCRC's Universal Torah Registry is the superior. (I bet it's the article's author's favorite as well, because he got to use the phrase "Torah chop shop." Can you imagine what a Torah chop shop would look like?) The Machon Ot system is just too cumbersome. I think it's a good idea to keep the identification as close to the scroll itself as possible, which the Universal Torah Registry does, obviously. The Machon Ot system relies on qualities inherent in the scroll itself, which means that you can't easily determine if it's a registered scroll--with the perforations in a UTR-protected scroll, you can tell in a few minutes.

I recommend reading the article, even if you have no interest in any of the topics it discusses. It's neat.

Monday, June 06, 2005


My heart always sinks when I read one of these things about how the massive transfer of wealth to the hyper-rich is changing the nature of society and we need to get mad and do something about it before we end up as a banana republic.

It's something about the words "And we need to get mad!"

They've been saying that since 1987. Seriously. I read this speech that Oliver Stone made in 1986 or 1987 where he said, "We gotta do something!!" And look what happened. Not that it's Oliver Stone's fault. I'm just saying: people who are remotely paying attention have been begging everyone to get mad for years and years, and the Roves and Bushies and Olins have just laughed and cranked out more propaganda and paid more lobbyists and made more campaign contributions and gotten more goodies.

So we're pretty much back where we were in the age of the robber barons. Imagine if John Steinbeck could see this. He'd blow his brains out. We're stuck playing Sisyphus--the boulder's rolling back down and we have to wait helplessly until it stops and then push it back up again. It's gonna be ugly. Meanwhile, look at all the lives that have been chewed up because a tiny group of people who were already super-rich decided that they needed to be richer.


Friday, June 03, 2005

Is There A White-Girl Way To Say "Amen, Sista"?

Men get Viagra, women get pharmacists flatly refusing to fill their birth control prescriptions. Men get dapoxetine (a new drug to prevent premature ejaculation and intensify orgasm), women get...jack shit (as female Viagra/dapoxetine drug "Intrinsa" was blocked from the market). Men get to not even think about this, while women get cuts in family planning programs so they'll be that much more likely to end up with babies they can't afford.

Great! Juuuust great. Nice to know that hypocrisy and the double standard march onward in triumph, completely unimpeded by common sense or basic fairness. (Note: that is sarcasm. I am not *actually* happy that hypocrisy and the double standard march onward in triumph.) But, y'know, it's only the lives of poor and middle-class women which will be ruined by this...or, heck, just pointlessly inhibited and clouded by fear. No one who really matters. (Note: that is also sarcasm.) The wealthy will just sail on, getting prescriptions and discreet procedures whenever they want. Meanwhile, their lower class brothers and sisters will be depicted as lazy and self-defeating by having a reporter judge their supermarket purchases and having a photographer take their picture during one of the few moments when they are *not* working ten-hour shifts six days a week and going to school, but are in fact--horrors!--sprawling on the couch taking a break. The slackers!! (That's sarcasm too.)

And the scary thing is that right-wingers think the New York Times is a bastion of unrepentant liberalism. I suppose in *their* fantasy version of this series, Gora and Blevins would simply be shot, or at least made to grovel at George Bush's feet and admit that liking ice cream and watching TV for a few hours a week are BAD BAD BAD things for undeserving people like themselves to do (sarcasm!), and that if they would have just planned ahead to get rich like Mr. Bush (so clever of him to plan to be born into that family!), they'd be much better people. (Yep, more sarcasm.)


Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Yeah, Why Isn't He?

Sit through an ad to read this post about the revelation of Deep Throat. It makes some very pertinent points (we've got whistleblowers today too, "and they're not hiding") and asks some very pertinent questions (why isn't George Bush going to get impeached?).