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2003/10/31

What's the Matter Kids Today

Want to know why Americans are so fat? Because their parents drive them around trick-or-treating. Apart from a couple teenagers (who didn't even bother with costumes), every trick-or-treater so far has come to the door while their parents wait in the SUV -- some of them are even getting in the soccer-mobile so they can ride the ten feet to the next driveway. I could understand it if I lived out in the boonies, but this is a densely packed suburban sprawl -- I could hit a couple hundred houses without crossing any streets.

Stupid Gen-X parents.
Firefighters -- Heroes, Mooks, or Mooches

I'm a contrarian at heart -- my hero is Christopher Hitchens, the man who says Mother Theresa was an evil woman -- however this article, part of Slate's contrarian Hey, Wait A Minute feature, is pretty dire. The writer is trying to argue that firefighters aren't heroes, but most of his points have nothing to do with his thesis. For example,

    Firefighting is a cushy job. Firefighters may have the best work schedule in the United States--24 hours on, 48 hours off. And those 24 hours are usually not terribly onerous. While a few big-city fire stations may have four, five, six calls, or more during a shift, most aren't nearly that busy, giving firefighters time to give tours to school kids, barbecue hamburgers, wash fire engines, sleep, and pose for "The Firefighters of [Your City Here], 2004" calendars.
Okay. So what? If Paris Hilton saved your life, would she not be a hero because she's a spoiled little rich girl who's never worked a day in her life? Of course not. The action makes the hero -- risking your life for the needs of the many, or the one -- not your lifestyle. You might as well argue that Mr. Spock wasn't a hero in Star Trek II because he spent most of the film sitting at a computer.

    Firefighting isn't that dangerous. Of course there are hazards, and about 100 firefighters die each year. But firefighting doesn't make the Department of Labor's 2002 list of the 10 most dangerous jobs in America. Loggers top that one, followed by commercial fishermen in the No. 2 spot,and general-aviation commercial pilots (crop dusters and the like) at No. 3. Firefighting trails truck-driving (No. 10) in its risks. Pizza delivery drivers (No. 5) have more dangerous jobs than firefighters, statistically speaking.
However, fishermen and deliverators aren't risking their lives so that others may live, except in the most tenuous sense. I don't see how the existence of more dangerous jobs has anything to do with the heroism of firefighters.

    And fatalities, when they occur in firefighting, often are due to heart attacks and other lack-of-fitness problems, not fire.
So fat men can't be heroes?

    In those cases where firefighters die in a blaze, it's almost always because of some unbelievable screw-up in the command chain.
The fact that one of the risks to their lives is human error doesn't detract from the heroism of acting despite that risk.

    Firefighters are adrenalin junkies. I did mountain rescue work for several years and more than once was praised as a "hero." Oh, give me a break. It was fun and exciting. Firefighting is even more of a rush.
Sorry, I'm not into existentialism -- heroism is a property of action, not motivation. If you're a lifeguard because it's a great way to pick up chicks, it doesn't mean you're not a hero if you risk your life to save someone else.

He finishes the article by pointing out that firefighters have good unions and PR, but again, I fail to see what that has to do with heroism.

He could probably make a good argument that most firefighters never actually risk their lives in the line of duty, but those who do are heroes, extenuating factors or no.
Fashionable Antisemitism

You know the problem with ideologues? Even when they're right, they're wrong. Take this piece by Victor David Hanson where he questions why so much antisemitism slips by the media without note. The gist of his article is right, but he peppers it with asides on his private bugaboos, like in the first paragraph here:

    There are certain predictable symptoms to watch when a widespread amorality begins to infect a postmodern society: cultural relativism, atheism, socialism, utopian pacifism. Another sign, of course, is fashionable anti-Semitism among the educated, or the idea that some imaginary cabal, or some stealthy agenda -- certainly not our own weakness -- is conspiring to threaten our good life.
So, as an atheist, I'm just as bad as the commies, utopian idiots, and antisemites? Yeah, way to win me over, VDH.

And explain to me how any of those things, with the possible exception of cultural relativism, is a symptom of amorality? I mean, just because I don't believe in a deity doesn't make me some debauched Roman Emperor, lolling about in a Bacchanale of food, sex, and booze -- I have morals, I just happen to take the position that they can be devised from First Principles rather than relying on divine fiat. I don't rape and kill because I accept that a civil society where such actions are forbidden is better than the alternative; Hanson doesn't rape and kill because God told him not to and he's afraid of damnation. How is the latter better than the former?

As for socialism and utopian pacifism, both are directly motivated by morality -- a very perverse morality, I think, and one that far too often ends with a pile of skulls, but a morality nonetheless. Even antisemitism is, at heart, a twisted moralism, one that holds Jews are inferior, or malevolent, or both. It doesn't stop being a morality just because I disagree with it -- say it's an evil morality, a vile one, but don't blame it on the lack of morality.

Hanson goes on for a bit, rather sensibly, before making another detour:

    How do you explain to an audience that Quentin Tarantino appeals both to teens and to empty-headed critics precisely because something is terribly amiss in America, when affluent and leisured suburbanites are drawn to scenes of raw killing as long as it is dressed up with "art" and "meaning"?
Puh-leeze. If there's something amiss in America, then there was something amiss in ancient Britain, where the Anglos and Saxons sat in rapt attention, listening to scalds sing of Beowulf hanging Grendel's arm in Heorot; and in Augustinian Rome where they read Virgil's bloody tale of arms and a man, which ends with Aeneas sinking his blade into Turnus' chest; and in ancient Greece where they revered the tale of Achilles' wrath which "hurled in their multitudes to the house of Hades strong souls/of heroes, but gave their bodies to be delicate feasting/of dogs". Taking pleasure from bloody tales is nothing new.
Whatever Happened to the Afghanistan Quagmire?

Cori Dauber raises an interesting point over at the Volokh Conspiracy:

    "An American soldier has died in Afghanistan from wounds sustained in a combat action." That is all MSNBC tells us this morning. As other stories trump Iraq coverage, but when there are stories they can't cut out, generally the deaths of American soldiers, this is the level of information we get -- and of course we rarely get more than this with Afghanistan. Here's the problem. There is a general consensus of research that the American people will tolerate combat casualties so long as they do not believe those deaths are meaningless deaths. I am not talking now about the balance between good news and bad news, I am talking about the way the bad news is presented.
But he misses another pertinent point -- I don't know anyone except for al Qaeda and fringe loons like International ANSWER who want the US out of Afghanistan. Why not? We're still taking casualties over there after two years-- maybe not in the same numbers as Iraq, but as a percentage of the troops we have in each country, it's probably the same. But deaths in Afghanistan barely receive coverage -- on the nightly news shows, it's usually mentioned as part of "other news," the place where they drop stories on African civil wars and European politics, whereas fatalities in Iraq get pride of place, either in the top story, or second-from-the-top. Part of the reason is that news organizations have more reporters in Iraq than Afghanistan, but that's hardly an excuse. For some reason the media -- and this goes equally for Fox and CNN -- has decided that post-war Iraq is an important story but post-war Afghanistan is just another tin-pot south Asian country that Americans don't care about.
Sweet! Dude!

I just had a hunk of cheese that's been fermenting since 1987 -- that's right, Cinemax just showed Masters of the Universe starring Mr. Ivan Drago himself, Dolph Lunkhead as He-Man*, along with everyone favorite midget, Billy Barty, as Gwildor- who- is- similar- but- legally- distinct- from- Orko- for- convoluted- trademark- reasons; Frang Langella in either too much or too little make-up as Skeletor; Star Trek's Robert Duncan MacNeill and TV's Courtney Cox as hapless Earth teenagers who get caught up in the adventure; and Strickland! as G.I. Kojak.

You might think that a movie with such an all-star cast might slack off when it comes to plot, but no, the film delivers a plot that would do Hitchcock proud -- see, there's this MacGuffin device that somehow ends up on Earth, leading He-Man and Skeletor here to possess. And in a traditional Molierean comedy-of-mishaps, every character comes into posession of the MacGuffin device for five minutes before another character takes. It's sheer brilliance. But then, would you expect anything less from Golan Globus/Cannon group, the studio that gave us such classics as Outlaw of Gor, and Alien from L.A.?

* According to the closing credits, Mr. Lunkhead had five assistants, including "Drama coach" and "Speech coach". I'm thinking there's a governorship in his future.
Happy Halloween, You Dirty Pagans

Ia! Cthulhu fhtagn! May Yog Sothoth bless you.

2003/10/30

Catholic Church Takes a Pot Shot at Islam

La Civilta Cattolica, a Jesuit magazine which essentially reflects the views of the Church, has published a really harsh critique of Islam. Although I think it's rather hypocritical for the Catholic Church of all groups to criticize Islam for its history as an evangelical hegemonizing horde, overall the article looks to be right on the money about what makes modern radical Islam so dangerous.

(Via Little Green Footballs)
Verily I Say Unto You, Allah Has Found a New House, Kufr

Allah has relocated his blog.
The Trials of Being a Dancer in a Glass Booth

If you don't think stripping is a grueling job, you should check out the latest entry at Pussyranch:

    Last night, a guy came to the peep show wearing what looked like a nun's habit. He stealthily applied red lipstick once in the booth, then lifted his dress to reveal a large, rather matronly prosthetic brassiere, and nothing else. Now, my friends know that I am quick to laughter. It took extreme strength on a deep, sub-cellular level, to not laugh at this dude. And I didn't. Ah, the bloom of maturity does unfurl. Or something.

2003/10/29

Howard Dean's Been Subverted by the Crab People!

I was really starting to like Dean, but then he revealed that he's a puppet of the Crab People:

    Dean declared himself a "metrosexual," the buzz phrase for straight men in touch with their feminine sides, as he touted his accomplishments in "equal justice" for gay and lesbian couples.

    But then he waffled.

    "I'm a square," Dean declared, after professing his metrosexuality to a Boulder breakfast audience with an anecdote about being called handsome by a gay man.
(Via Volokh)
Microsoft Falls Further Behind the Curve

Instapundit points out this bit from the big MS Longhorn presentation this week.

    But what's interesting about this is a couple of things. First, it actually built in these common parts that show information, notification, services, that a user might really be interested in seeing when they're working on their main application, without popping up a window that covers it. For example, the time or their buddy list or a slide show, which, of course, you can add and remove these tiles here -- or even an RSS-feed built right into the sidebar.
The thing is, I can access all those things through sidebars -- at least while using Firebird -- already. That's the beauty of extensible open-source software -- instead of waiting for MegaCorp to add an application to the next release (or the release after that, or three releases from now), I can just search a couple catalogues to see if anyone's invented what I need -- and if I can think of it, a programmer almost certainly has. Even if an application I want is still in the early stages of development, it'll probably be on its third release before Longhorn hits shelves.

So all you people reading this page in Internet Explorer, consider upgrading to Mozilla or Firebird.

(I promise I'm not going to become an open-source evangelist, but every once in a while people need to be pointed towards the alternatives to M$.)
Welcome to the Past, the Future is Behind Us

While I'm on the subject of Sullivan and homosexuality, everyone should read his piece on the Federal Marriage Amendment. For anyone who hasn't been paying attention, it's a Constitutional Amendment proposed by some right wingnuts that would hold that

    Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this constitution or the constitution of any state, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups.
As Sullivan points out,

    The amendment wouldn't simply ban equality in civil marriage, a right that is now guaranteed to murderers, child abusers, dead-beat dads, multiple divorcees and foreigners - but not to gay citizens. It would also make it unconstitutional for a state or federal law to give any benefits whatsoever to gay couples. Where do I glean that? From the words "or the legal incidents thereof." Even the weakest forms of domestic partnerships contain benefits, i.e. "legal incidents," that are also part of marriage, like hospital visitation, shared wills, etc. This amendment would make every such benefit subject to abolition through the courts. Some say that because the amendment says that no law should be "construed" to grant the "legal incidents" of marriage, it's directed only at courts, not legislatures - so a legislature could enact equal marriage rights and pass the Constitutional test. But anything called marriage or equivalent to marriage would be banned under the first part of the amendment. And any benefits in a lesser version could be challenged by the far right in the courts under the second part - and no court could constitutionally uphold them.
I think Sullivan has the right of it -- social conservatives have realized that the younger generations are taking a much more libertarian view of sexuality, and if they don't stop it now, homosexuality will irrevocably enter the American mainstream. These are the modern Dixiecrats, except this time around they control a party and are trying to elbow the opposition out.
Catholicism -- Now with 33% More Tolerance

Andrew Sullivan has really ticked off some Catholics -- seems they don't like the fact that he quoted the Catechism while making a point about Terri Schiavo. Oh, the horror! A gay Catholic! And he's not a priest!

    But really, if you reject the whole of the Church's teaching on sexuality (and he does - remember his defenses of Arnold Schwarzenegger's past sexual outrages?) - don't, and I mean DON'T come at me quoting the Catechism. Just don't.
Yeah, unless you agree with everything the Church teaches, you have no right to argue that the Church is violating its own rules. Makes perfect sense to me.

Then there's this lovely little bit:

    T'aint complicated. Everything--I mean *everything*--in Andrew's world is ordered toward the defense, protection and promotion of One Little Thing.
Yes, that's it. Show your masculinity by questioning the size of Sullivan's magic popsicle. That's sure to bag you a bunch of loose Catholic chicks.

    This was just one more opportunity to take a swipe at the thing that poses the biggest threat to that. His task here is not to teach Catholic ethics, but to obfuscate, confuse, blur and denigrate. A day or two ago he was trying to somehow construe the defense of Terri's life in support of gay marriage. It's all about l'il willie for Andrew.
Well, yeah. That's the way it is for all men. Adulation of our own genitalia is what fuels civilization. Without it, there'd be no art, no war, no song. No Eiffel Tower, no space shuttle, no fast cars. If not for the penis, Alan Turing would've spent his time building model airplaines instead of inventing the computer; Led Zepplin would've smoked another joint when they should've been composing "Kashmir"; and Christopher Columbus would've rolled over and gone back to sleep instead of discovering the New World.

So don't denigrate Sullivan for having his Wee Willie McGee at heart, because without it, there'd be no United States of America, you commie bastard!
The Dumbing Down of PBS

I think I know what inspired Gregg Easterbrook's rant on string theory and religious belief -- NOVA. Their newest episode is supposedly on the subject, but it's so muddled and confusing that I'm surprised they didn't quote Jack Chick's assertion that Jesus is the strong nuclear force.

I only watched the first hour before flipping over to 24, and in that time they barely discussed string theory proper, instead recapping the theory of relativity -- as though anyone watching NOVA needs a refresher on that -- and quantum physics. But if you watched the program without a prior knowledge of physics, you'd think that (A) Einstein only ever came up with one theory of relativity, and (B) it was entirely concerned with gravity. The few times they did bring up string theory, it was always discussed metaphorically -- the strings vibrate like violin strings, so the universe is like a giant musical score -- with no discussion of Calabi-Yau space and what "strings" actually are. Maybe they got into it in the second hour, but from the preview they showed, it looked to be more a discussion of why many scientists think the theory's piffle.

Gah, a Greg Egan novel would probably be a better introduction to the ideas of string theory than anything on PBS these days.

2003/10/28

24

Watching tonight's 24, one question kept haunting my mind -- when the hell did Kim become competent? In the past she's barely been able to bang two rocks together, but now she's not only a CTU employee, but she's able to hack into a cow-orker's computer and lock him out. And on top of that, she went the entire episode without being kidnapped, stranded, strung-up by her ankles, or attacked by a cougar! I know three years have past since last season, but even so it's a bit hard to swallow.

And while we're on the subject, have you seen this poster?



Certainly looks a lot different from the flacid-haired Penelope Pitstop we're used to. Hell, she looks like a geneticly engineered organism, a cross-breed of Julia Stiles, Kate Hudson, and a jar of Vaseline. The thing is, looking at the poster, you'd think this is a comedy aimed at 13 year-old boys and their fathers, but in actuality it's an R-rated sex-comedy about a boy who falls in love with the ex-porn star next door.

Okay, the target audience is still going to be 13 year old boys and their fathers, they just can't say it in the ads now.
Why I Hate High Production Values in Music

Music Choice is playing a song from Nelly Furtado's new album, and there're two things annoying me about it.

  1. I like it better when she sings in Spanish, and

  2. There's this electronic rattling effect in the music which sounds like a phone ringing in a distant room.
I'll Give You a Cancer to Cure

If I see one more link to this page, I'm going to go Zsa Zsa Gabor on someone's ass. Yes, the effort that went into copying a genuine CNN page is impressive. Yes, it's more amusing than the tripe The Onion foists as satire. But after seeing it five hundred times, it's wearing as thin as the Superfriends/Whazzup movie.
Terrorist Attacks? Saudi Arabia? Nah!

The US has issued a warning about possible terrorist threats to Americans in Saudi Arabia, including possible attacks against airplanes. But don't worry, the Saudi's "downplayed the warning as an 'exaggerated precaution' and said authorities would continue to thwart any terrorist plots in the world's largest oil exporter." And we all know we can trust the Saudis.
If Dr. Spock Were Here, He'd Say, "Smack the Parents"

A new study says that 30% of children under the age of three have a TV in their room. Jebus, I didn't get a TV in my room until I went to college. I used to sneak downstairs at 2:00 AM to watch 120 Minutes and Flesh Gordon, but these brats can do it in their room.

And to all the Bill O'Reilly and Tipper Gore types -- next time you feel like blaming the media for corrupting da yoots, maybe you should consider the idiot parents who'd rather let their toddlers watch TV unsupervised than to spend time with them. Yeah, that's a real ace job they're doing; if only those nasty TV producers didn't exist, they wouldn't have to spend any time with their kids.
I Was Wrong

Over the weekend I predicted that NASA would operate under heightened safety concerns for a few years before slacking off. Looks like I was overly optimistic.

2003/10/27

What if Our Solar System Were a Calabi-Yau Space in a Giant's Fingernail?

Gregg Easterbrook has another preposterously silly column, though this time it's not offensive, just dumb.

    Other dimensions exist in science fiction, but do they in reality? Here's the technical scientific answer: No one has the foggiest notion. Cosmologists talk rather casually of alternate dimensions during the Big Bang or of the "many worlds" hypothesis in which there are billions of parallel universes, perhaps an infinite number, occupying an infinity of different dimensions.
Yes, some cosmological theories hold that our universe is but one pancake in a giant stack of dimensional membranes, but this is quite a different animal from the Many World's interpretation, which is an attempt to explain Schroedinger's cat paradox. The idea is that every quantum event creates two universes -- one where, say, a particular atom of radium decayed, and one where it didn't. This is of course the basis for all sorts of science fiction stories, where, instead of becoming a master painter, Adolf Hitler became a genocidal maniac, or where John Fitzgerald Kennedy didn't shoot President Oswald in Dallas, but the number of scientists who take the idea seriously is practically nil.

    Physicists rather casually speak of ten unobservable dimensions, in addition to the obvious three, existing in our own reality, all around us.
You might want to reread your pop-sci books, Gregg -- some scientists hypothesize that our universe consists of ten (or possibly eleven) total dimensions -- the three spatial and one temporal that we're familiar with, and six more that are very small and as yet unobservable.

    Ten unobservable dimensions all around us is the key assumption of "superstring" theory, the leading current proposed explanation of matter at its most fundamental level. (Basically, "superstring" theory holds that at its most fundamental level, matter is made of very rapidly spinning nothing. The rotation holds in place the ten unobservable dimensions, whose boundary area is somehow rendered tangible by being imprisoned in astonishingly small spinning packets. No, that doesn't make much sense. So far all proposed explanations for the underlying basis of matter don't make much sense.)
I know it's a joke among scientists that string and superstring theories are jabberwocky, but they do a good enough job of explaining how the universe works that scientists think it's worth investigating -- but it is far from the only game in town.

    Speculation about other dimensions is interesting, but there isn't the slightest evidence--not a scintilla, as lawyers say--that other dimensions are genuine. Nor is it clear what, exactly, other dimensions could be like on a physical basis. The whole idea of other dimensions is mushy, to say the least. To make things mushier, many theories hold that other dimensions or other universes will always be impossible to detect, perhaps because they are moving away from us at the speed of light.
In which case these other dimensions will have as much meaning to us as a computer has to a cellular automaton. However, we aren't at that point yet.

    Recently The New York Times science section offered a nice story about a researcher, Maria Spiropulu of the University of California at Santa Barbara, who is trying to confirm the existence of other dimensions experimentally. She wears "black jeans, a black sleeveless top, Nikes and three rings on her left hand"--when was the last time you saw the fashion cues of a male physicist described in such specificity? (Usually male physicists are just "rumpled.") Check out this well-written article for details of the techno side of the search for other dimensions.

    But the article left out the really interesting part, which is what the question of other dimensions says about the spiritual debate. At Yale, Princeton, Stanford, and other top schools, researchers discuss ten unobservable dimensions, or an infinite number of imperceptible universes, without batting an eye. Scientists banter offhandedly about invisible realities that might incorporate trillions of billions of galaxies, and suppose such things are real in spite of there being no physical evidence whatsoever to support such speculation. No one considers discussion of other dimensions to be peculiar. Ten unobservable dimensions, an infinite number of invisible parallel universes--hey, why not?

    Yet if at Yale, Princeton, Stanford, or top schools, you proposed that there exists just one unobservable dimension--the plane of the spirit--and that it is real despite our inability to sense it directly, you'd be laughed out of the room. Or conversation would grind to a halt to avoid offending your irrational religious superstitions.
This overlooks one significant point -- for a theory to be scientific, it has to be falsifiable -- that is, if the theory isn't true, there has to be a conceivable experiment that would prove it's not true. Lord Washinosh, the invisible bunny who's reading this over my shoulder as I type, is unfalsifiable and thus scientifically meaningless. Since scientists, including the aforementioned Maria Spiropulu, are running experiments to test for extra dimensions, it's clearly a scientific theory. And if Gregg can come up with a falsifiable theory for this supposed "spiritual dimension" (HINT: A good first step would be defining what the hell it is), I'm sure that scientists would gladly listen to him. But the fact is, no one's ever accomplished this, and so discussions of spirituality, ghosts, and invisible bunnies have no scientific meaning. That's not to say that they don't exist, or even that there aren't scientists who believe in them, only that the intersection between such things and science is the empty-set.

    To modern thought, one extra spiritual dimension is a preposterous idea, while the notion that there are incredible numbers of extra physical dimensions gives no pause. Yet which idea sounds more implausible--one unseen dimension or billions of them?
Nice try, but it doesn't wash -- Ockham's Razor says that when you're given two competing explanations for the same phenomenon, you should take the one that requires the fewest assumptions. Models of the universe that require extra-dimensions may in fact be the simplest explanation possible; and a "spiritual dimension" may be the simplest explanation for some metaphysical question, but the two are completely unrelated. You might as well argue that ancient sequoias prove that a man can live for a thousand years.
Look at How Liberal Professors are Corrupting Their Students

Tyler Cowen at the Volokh Conspiracy points to this survey on the political views of college students.

In terms of political affiliation, the two parties are pretty close to parity, with independents forming the plurality. The big surprise is Bush's approval rating -- 61% think he's doing at least a moderately good job, compared to 53% of the population at large in a recent ABC/WaPo poll. But at the same time, far fewer students are inclined to vote for Bush (or the Democratic candidates).

A majority of students also support the war, but, depressingly, a majority also want us to withdraw troops already -- a great argument for why foreign policy shouldn't be dictated by public opinion.

I'm also amused by this question on celebrity political views:

    67. Which celebrity do you personally find most influential on politics? Was this asked of everyone? -yes

    Arnold Schwarzenegger..................23%
    Bono....................................2%
    Michael Moore...........................2%
    Jesse Ventura...........................1%
    Martin Sheen............................1%
    Oprah Winfrey...........................1%
    Susan Sarandon..........................1%
    The Dixie Chicks........................1%
Finally, proof that no one cares what celebrities think as long as they aren't running for office.

Cowen concludes that students are more conservative than the population as a whole, but I rather suspect they're more likely to be South Park Republicans than the Bill Bennett types.
Bureaucracy -- It's What's for Dinner

Now I have nothing against slackers, but social workers who fail to notice that a teenaged boy only weighs 50 pounds are, perhaps, putting too little effort into their jobs. I think even Randal would do a better job than this.
This Is Why God Created MIT

Some students at MIT have discovered an interesting, and apparently legal work-around for filesharing -- users on campus can request songs online, but they're piped to the room over the campus cable system, which is analog and thus subject to the same rules as radio-stations and not the more stringent ones for digital transmissions. Since the university already pays a fee for broadcasting music on the school's radio station, there's no additional cost for the service. Users can't record the music (at least not at digital quality) but they have control of the playback.

Of course, even though it's perfectly legal, you just know the RIAA will pitch a fit over it.
Snow Long and Thanks for All the Fish

Brit Hume clone Tony Snow is leaving Fox News Sunday in part to start his own radio show and in part so Fox can -- wait for it -- bring in a host who appears more impartial.

The First Batch of Rupert Murdoch's Clone Army? I Report, You Decide

2003/10/26

Russia -- Land of the Free

It's so comforting to know that the fall of Communism has brought political freedom and democracy to Russia.
Wolfowitz Targeted for Assassination

The hotel where Paul Wolfowitz was staying in Iraq has been attacked with mortars or missiles.

2003/10/25

Some Serious Gas Eking Out of that Hole

The idiot neighbors are building a fence (or rather, a bunch of non-English speaking construction types are building them a fence) and forgot to call Miss Utility. This happens at least once a year in my neighborhood, but normally it's an electrical or phone line that a construction crew cuts. Not this time. No, this time they managed to break a gas main.

Firemen are here, going around knocking on doors and telling everyone to close their windows. So keep an eye on the news to make sure I haven't blown up.

2003/10/24

Wanna See the Pyre of Denethor?

This site has a whole buncha cool Return of the King pictures, including, Merry stealing the Palantir, Frodo and Sam disguised as orcs (which comes off better than I expected), the pyre of Denethor (how they're going to handle that without making the film R-rated, I don't know), and the long, hard climb up Mount Doom.
Fumbling Towards Mediocrity

The more often the Music Choice channels play the first song from Sarah McLachlan's new album, the more convinced I become that Fumbling Towards Ecstasy was a fluke. The follow-up album, Surfacing, had a couple really good songs surrounded by indistinguishable fluff that barely filled 40 minutes of disc, and everything I've heard from her earlier work is completely underwhelming elevator music. Which is, unfortunately, what this song "Fallen" sounds like to me.

I've always thought that Dido was Sarah McLachlan-lite, but this new album sounds like Dido-lite.
The Next Big Thing

Hey kids, wanna get in on the next big trend before it takes off? Check out Natalia Lafourcade's debut CD. She just won a bunch of awards at the MTV Latin Music Awards (which is far superior to the dreck they foist on regular MTV). There are several better Spanish language singers out there, but Lafourcade's still good -- kinda like Vanessa Carlton, but with the advantage that I can't understand a word she sings -- and I wouldn't be surprised if a label ports her into English. If so, I hope they manage the transition better than with Shakira, who -- believe it or not -- is actually really good in the original Klingon.
NASA and Bureaucratic Inertia

NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe has an op-ed in today's Washington Post on the change in NASA culture since the Columbia accident.

    These days at NASA, you can almost hear the sound of minds creaking open. NASA suffered a lot after the Columbia tragedy in February, but it learned a lot as well. One lesson is that we have to listen more carefully. But folks have to feel as if what they say will be heard. So the culture is changing. Concerns are being heard, actions are being taken and the safety of our operations is improving.
I have no doubt that's true today; the question is whether it'll be true tomorrow. After the Challenger blew up, NASA made similar changes to ensure that the concerns of engineers would be heeded when they had concerns, but fifteen years on, after numerous successful missions, the process broke down. Now NASA's back to a heightened concern for safety, but how long will it last?

2003/10/23

Bill O'Reilly Knows Not of Which He Speaks

I'm channel surfing and I stopped on Bill O'Reilly for a couple minutes to hear him spouting off on Hollywood and the "backlash" against anti-war actors.

For example, George Clooney's come out against the war, and his last few films haven't been blockbusters. This of course has nothing to do with the fact that Clooney's last few films haven't exactly been blockbuster material.

O'Reilly also argues that if Sean Penn and Tim Robbins weren't opposed to the war, Mystic River would be a huge hit. Because Sean Penn and Tim Robbins are huge boxoffice draws otherwise.

But the guest in this segment, a woman who has some nebulously defined job at Fox ("Fox News Contributor"), is even dumber, suggesting that the low ratings for the current TV season are related to the public's dislike of Hollywood politicizing. Her proof for this? Post hoc ergo propter hoc -- see, the ratings went down after the Iraq War. They must be connected! Never the mind that the stars of The Mullets and Coupling weren't exactly outspoken opponents of the war -- come to that, does anyone know the names of those involved with either show?

Come on, as long as a star hasn't killed or raped anyone in recent memory, the public doesn't care.
Operation: Rollback

I am shocked, shocked to learn that Walmart employs illegal immigrants. My God, what's next? Illegal immigrants working on lawn crews? In construction? The mind boggles.
The Ultimate Onset Blowup

Jesus, apparently unhappy that he's being portrayed by Jim Caviezel instead of John Travolta in the upcoming The Passion of Christ, smote down the actor today.

When reached for comment, Jesus said, "Man, just look at that guy. How'm I s'posed to get any if everyone thinks I look like that mook? Bad 'nuff last time they did this, they got that crook toothed Dafoe guy to play me, but dis is worse. So I tol' Horshack 'n' Epstein to hold the guy down while I smote his scraggly Irish be-hind."
Pat Robertson -- You Are Outta Here!

UPN-20 (formerly Paramount 20, formerly DC 20, and occasionally still WDCA) in Washington decided not to renew the 700 Club. I'm a bit disappointed in Lisa de Moraes' coverage since she notes,

    In July, after the Supreme Court ruling decriminalizing gay sex between consenting adults, Robertson asked viewers to pray for the retirement of three of the justices so that more conservative justices could take their place,
but she fails to point out the delicious irony that all the Supremes are still there while Robertson has, for all intents and purposes, been canceled.

Thankfully UPN-20 still airs Jack van Impe (praise Jebus!) who is a far superior televangelist than Robertson. For one thing, Robertson never gets a wistful grin on his face when he talks about Armageddon.
Over Instachiever

Glenn Reynolds says,

    BLOGGING HAS BEEN LIGHTER THAN USUAL -- and perhaps a bit distracted -- this week,
and yet in the space of just over an hour this morning, he posted so many entries there's almost no room for them on the RSS feed.
MO3

Want to read something really scary, boys and ghouls, an early Halloween story? Check out Micro$ofts latest attempt to assimilate your computer. I don't know why anyone bothers with the International Jewish Conspiracy (TM 1920, Henry Ford) when there's a demonstrably real one right here in River City. That's Conspiracy with a capital "C" and that' rhymes with "B" and that stands for Bill. Hmm, maybe if we started telling people that Gates is Jewish, Paul Krugman would pick up the story.
Fighting New Speak

William Saletan debunks the myth, propagated by the right-wing of the Republican party, that a partial-birth abortion means killing a fetus that would otherwise be able to survive after being pulled from the womb. It's a cheap rhetorical tactic on the part of conservatives who can't win the abortion debate unless they redefine the words they use.

2003/10/22

That Columbine Video

Someone who knows guns analyzes that new video of Harris and Kleibold. Her conclusion -- much ado about nothing.
More Elliott Smith

Salon looks to be the first site to get a full-on obituary for Elliott Smith up. If it's true that his last live shows were so lackluster, it's a sad way for a great musician to go out.

The thing I admired about Smith is that he never sold-out. When he left Kill Rock Stars for Dreamworks, he took the big paycheck, then turned around and told his fans he was okay with them bootlegging his shows. He may've been a folk-rocker, but he was more punk than many punk bands.
Elliott Smith Won't Be Boozing It Up Anymore

It appears that Elliott Smith committed suicide yesterday. I'd like to say it's shocking, but having listened to his albums, it's not. Dammit, just because people compared you to Nick Drake didn't mean you had to follow in his footsteps.

2003/10/21

All I Want for Christmas

Mommy, mommy, I want an Ann Coulter action figure! (Urine sold separately.) Oh, and a magnifying glass so I can melt her head. Come to think of it, I'll need more than one.
Something That's Actually Cheaper in Britain Than the US

I wish I'd known this when I was in college -- many textbooks are over 50% cheaper in Britain than the US. Even with extra shipping fees, you can save a few hundred dollars ordering online. In fact, the price difference is so great that, if you're enterprising and have enough capital for the initial investment, you can order them from overseas and resell them for a mark-up and still undercut the bookstores.
New Bad Astronomy

All right! A new installment of Bad Astronomy!
Sullivan on Bennett

Andrew Sullivan has a new weekly column at TNR where he fisks op-eds. The inaugural installment features him not just going after William Bennett, but going after him on gay marriage, so you just know it's double-plus good even before you read it.
Lisa de Moraes Quote of the Day

Defending the Indefensible

Paul Krugman, favorite punching bag for bloggers everywhere, today acts as an apologist for Malaysian PM Mohamed Mahathir's anti-semitic remarks.

    It's worth reading the rest of last week's speech, beyond the offensive 28 words.
Yes, I've seen the full speech. There were a lot more than 28 anti-semitic words.

    Most of it is criticism directed at other Muslims, clerics in particular. Mr. Mahathir castigates "interpreters of Islam who taught that acquisition of knowledge by Muslims meant only the study of Islamic theology."
Well, gee, if the speech was only 10% anti-semitic, I guess that makes it okay.

    Thanks to these interpreters, "the study of science, medicine, etc. was discouraged. Intellectually the Muslims began to regress."
But Krugman conveniently leaves off the part where Mahathir explains why Muslims need to learn science:

    We need guns and rockets, bombs and warplanes, tanks and warships for our defence. But because we discouraged the learning of science and mathematics etc as giving no merit for the akhirat, today we have no capacity to produce our own weapons for our defence.
Yup, according to him, the purpose of science is to find better ways to blow things up. But this detracts from Krugman's argument that Mahathir isn't a raging loon, so he left it out.

    At that time, rather than accept the austerity programs recommended by the U.S. government and the I.M.F., he loudly blamed machinations by Western speculators, and imposed temporary controls on the outflow of capital -- a step denounced by all but a handful of Western economists
As other bloggers have noted, Mahathir didn't just blame Joe Random Speculator, but specifically singled out a Jewish plot to destabilize Malaysia:

    Speaking at the International Monetary Fund's conference in Hong Kong in October 1997, when the crisis was shaking markets across the region, Mahathir spoke of the presence of "sinister powers" working against the progress of Asian economies. He criticized financier George Soros for having caused the currency instability -- but one of a number of similar allegations against Soros -- and called him a "moron".

    On his return to Malaysia, Mahathir repeated that Soros was culpable for the ringgit's plunge. Describing Soros, who is of Jewish origin, as a Jew, Mahathir went on to say that Jews were generally responsible for the currency's collapse:

    "We do not want to say that this is a plot by the Jews, but in reality it is a Jew who triggered the currency plunge, and coincidentally Soros is a Jew. It is also a coincidence that Malaysians are mostly Moslem. Indeed, the Jews are not happy to see Moslems progress. If it were Palestine, the Jews would rob Palestinians. Thus this is what they are doing to our country."
But once more, this would ruin Krugman's argument, so he ignores it and makes excuses for it.

    What became clear watching Mr. Mahathir back then was that his strident rhetoric was actually part of a delicate balancing act aimed at domestic politics.
That might explain why he did it five years ago, but he's leaving office at the end of this month. He doesn't need domestic support anymore. If anything, this is the time for him to speak his mind.

    Malaysia has a Muslim, ethnically Malay, majority, but its business drive comes mainly from an ethnic Chinese minority. To keep the economy growing, Mr. Mahathir must allow the Chinese minority to prosper, but to ward off ethnic tensions he must throw favors, real and rhetorical, to the Malays.

    Part of that balancing act involves reserving good jobs for Malay workers and giving special business opportunities to Malay entrepreneurs. One reason Mr. Mahathir was so adamantly against I.M.F. austerity plans was that he feared that they would disrupt the carefully managed cronyism that holds his system together. When times are tough, Mr. Mahathir also throws the Muslim majority rhetorical red meat.
Y'know, if Bush started stirring up anti-Islamic sentiments in an effort to shore up the economy and boost his approval ratings, Krugman'd be screaming bloody murder. You know why? Because it's frickin' wrong! So why in Cthulhu's name is he arguing that it's okay for a Muslim leader to do the same thing, only with Jews?

2003/10/20

Israeli Funerals

David Bernstein offers this first hand account of funerals and the cultural power of the rabbinate in Israel.
Suckling at a Wolf's Teat

According to Slate's Ad Report Card, there are a lot of people grossed out by that Quiznos commercial that shows the guy who doesn't like Quiznos suckling at a wolf's teat. (Get it? He doesn't like their sandwiches, so he's raised by wolves! And wolves are a choice demographic.)

I think these people are hopelessly mistaken -- the disgusting part of the ad is the Quiznos sub. After trying them, I think being raised by wolves is preferable. The ad's right when it suggests that toasted subs are, in general, better than the soft, non-toasted ones from Subway, but Quiznos spoils that advantage by making their subs unappetizing and overpriced -- they taste like what McDonalds would produce if McDonald's made subs. And they charge as much for a 4" as a pizza place near my house charges for a 12" -- and the the pizza place's are meatier, jucier, and all around tastier.
One More Time

Barring new developments, this is the last post on Easterbrook I plan on making, but Mickey Kaus has a wonderful analysis of the whole matter.
Mother Teresa -- Threat or Menace?

Christopher Hitchens offers his argument for why Mother Teresa is the most evil woman since Lucrecia Borgia.
Musicians Who Have Nothing to Say But Say It Anyways

Why do musicians insist on talking about politics as though they have something deep and meaningful to say? Apart from Bono and a few others, their views always sound like something they got off bumperstickers. If it's not Fiona Apple imploring us to save the turkeys, it's some jingoistic country singer who, if you changed a few words around, could be advocating the Intifada.

And now it's the great blues-rocker Rickie Lee Jones, who talked about her new album with the Guardian.

    "I hope it wakes people up. You know, people in America are afraid to say anything; they are afraid of George Bush, afraid of the police, afraid of being fined, afraid of being accused.
Yes, Americans are afraid to criticize the President. There's absolutely no dissent anymore.

    I feel I'm in the right place and right time spiritually to stand up, and say, 'But you don't have any clothes on'."
Thank Ghu you're here to save us, Rickie! Without your album bringing the voice of resistance to the hundreds of people who'll buy it, America would continue in Bush's thrall!

    Her voice is so strange - little-girlie sweet, sleepy and nasal. She stops, tells me she shouldn't say this because she'll be quoted on Fox News, then goes ahead anyway, directly addressing the subject of her bile
Okay, you wants to get your message out, but you doesn't want to be quoted on Fox News -- what, you don't want to take the chance that people who disagree with you might hear it? She actually addresses this point a little later in the article:

    But why is she so frightened of being quoted on Fox - isn't that what she should be hoping for? And where have the traditional voices of protest gone? Well, she says, you know what happened to the Dixie Chicks (the country pop group widely boycotted for saying they were ashamed that, like them, George W comes from Texas).
Welcome to the free market. No one ever said Freedom of Speech meant freedom from reaction.

    "You're an ignorant, low-class, opportunistic man, both personally and politically, who does everything for political gain and nothing for the wellbeing of the people, and you should not be in office,
Well, yeah. He's a politician. What were you expecting, King Arthur? You just described pretty much every President in the last fifty years, and most of Congress.

    and the kind of fascism you're perpetrating on our country we don't want, and you're out.
What, would some other kind of fascism be okay?

    We're done with you.
You got a mouse in your pocket, honey?

Using the first person plural when stating your view is just a cheap rhetorical device to make your opinion seem weightier. Speak for yourself, and let other people voice their own agreement or dissent.

    "People are afraid," says Jones. "What the government can do now, aside from trying to harm your career, they can actually arrest you and say what you said is a threat to national security, and they don't have to tell you why they are arresting you. They can arrest you for as long as they want without you seeing a lawyer, and without telling anyone."
Finally, she takes a sensible position! Now if she could do it without sounding like she's wearing a tin-foil hat.

    She believes the bombing of the Twin Towers has politicised a politically apathetic generation in an alarming way. "I think 9/11 gave this generation an identity, and its identity is potentially fascist. My skin crawls when I think of the first week after 9/11. I was looking out of the window and there were people marching down the street carrying flags. It reminded me of spontaneous, angry Nazis
Yeah, I get the same feeling when I see Volkswagens and highways. Say, the Scooby Gang drove a VW Microbus on the highways and byways of America ... and now that I think about it, Fred looks rather Aryan. Sweet baby Jebus, Scooby Doo is fascist propaganda!

    and I thought, 'Oh, man, we are in a lot of trouble'. There's a whole bunch of people who have flags hanging from their cars and who are mistaking fascism for patriotism."
Yup, it's just one short step from displaying a flag to building industrial sized crematoria.

    Then there's the strange notion of bombing countries into a sense of responsibility. "Look at Afghanistan and Iraq. Pound the shit out of them, then bring them democracy because it's for their own good, right?" It's the hypocrisy she finds hardest to cope with. "I would have probably made peace with the idea of this rightwing Republican presidency if at any point after we were bombed - because we were devastated, we were terrified and broken-hearted - if he had said, 'I'm so pissed off, I'm gonna go and blow up the whole fucking Middle East. I hate 'em and I'm blowing 'em up', we would have gone, 'OK, right on', but he didn't. He said, 'We're looking for Bin Laden and we're bringing democracy'. Every single aspect of his response has been evil, thus making us into the evil thing we didn't know we were. Ffffhgggmm." (I'm sure she wouldn't have said 'right on' and made peace with Bush, but I know what she means.)
Yes, she's saying that people would've gone along with Bush if he'd just lashed out blindly and killed a lot of people, but because he didn't act like the irrational maniac she thinks he is ... well, that's just wrong.

And let's examine this logic -- she thinks America should get rid of Bush because he's an evil fascist ... but one of the reasons he's evil is that he dared topple the Taliban -- a truly fascist government, right down to making Jews and Hindus wear special markers -- and install a democratic government in Afghanistan. I can understand people opposing the war in Iraq, but to say that hunting bin Laden and bringing democracy to Afghanistan is evil ... what is she smoking?

    She whinnies like a horse when I give her one minute to plot the revolution. She knows it's going to make her enemies. "Well, I suppose it's a romantic notion to think of Americans in the street with their guns approaching the White House: that couldn't happen. They'd shoot them down. Would there be more behind? I don't know, but I would like to think that at some point Americans would commit enough to protecting their country from the enemy within to sacrifice their lives. Because something is going to have to give. I don't know if it will happen in my time."
Take a chill pill. Seriously.

Despite your fantasy of being the voice in the wilderness of the Fourth Reich, there're still plenty of outlets for dissent. Go into any high-traffic Usenet group and you'll see at least one flamewar over the administration's policies. Surf the blogosphere and you'll run across people who think just like you. You can even find mainstream publications calling the President a liar. And, despite the PATRIOT Act, no one's being arrested for it.

And next November, we're having a little thing called an election -- and if the Democrats learn the difference between their ass and a hole in the ground, they have a chance at winning it.

    Would she be willing to take Bush out for the benefit of democracy?
I've been focusing on Rickie, but I'd like to single out this comment from the interviewer. Lovely, ain't it.

    "If I say that, I might get arrested when I go back.
No. A federal agent might snoop around and ask your neighbors some questions, and you'd get put on a watch-list, but unless you try to break into the Whitehouse, you aren't likely to get arrested -- you aren't that important; the Secret Service is on the lookout for real kooks.

    And I have to go home." She's thinking it out carefully. "I guess the question is, would I kill anyone? And the answer is, no.
Way to stand up for your convictions!

    But would I feel sorry if someone killed him? No, I wouldn't. It would depend on who killed him, I guess."
How sweet.

Sorry, Rickie, I love your singing, but you're an idiot. Why don't you get a talk-show with Dennis Miller, that way I can not listen to both of you at the same time.
Hurry Up and Wait

Leatherneck at Sgt. Stryker points to this article on the lack of medical attention our injured troops are receiving. Unfortunately I can't say I'm surprised -- there's a reason why SNAFU is on the lower end of the FU scale.

When my father was in the army, I once had to wait three hours in a base hospital with a 104 degree fever -- and when the doctor finally had time to see me, he took my weight, height, and temperature, then sent me back to the waiting room for another hour. When he called me back into the examining room, he ran a couple tests, then sent me out for another hour until the results came back. I've seen regular civilian emergency rooms that move people through faster.

And on top of that, the original copy of my medical records is in a military warehouse somewhere, probably next to the Ark of the Covenant. When I started college, I had to retake a whole bunch of shots because the copy my father got from the army didn't have an up-to-date vaccination sheet.

That's how the military is in peacetime; I wouldn't imagine they'd get their act together for something as trivial as a war.

2003/10/19

The Divine Rights of Presidents

According to Fareed Zakaria, William Boykin, the idiot general who claims he captured a Muslim warlord in Somalia because Jove can beat up Allah, has also said that God put George W. Bush in the White House. Please, William Rehquist has a big enough head already. But at least this explains why Bush isn't in a big hurry to fire the guy.

Of course, Boykin also says that God placed Clinton in the Whitehouse, and in fact all American Presidents. Apparently God believes Lord Vetinari's maxim -- One Man, One Vote (So Long as I'm the Man with the Vote).

Now if we follow Boykin's argument to the logical conclusion, it means that Clinton's impeachment was also an act of God, and the fact that he got off means that God condoned his method for relaxing in the Oval Office. So in Boykin's mind, Monica Lewinsky was the Hand of God? Sick dude! Anyone who believes God gives handjobs to the President of the United States should not be holding a flag rank in the army. We need to kick this prevert out of the Pentagon before he organizes some kinda mutiny of preverts.

2003/10/18

Pay Attention

In 2025, a lot of Americans are going to be scratching their heads as they as they wonder how America got involved with the clusterfuck that north/central South America's become. They'll think the problems just spontaneously appeared because they aren't paying attention to things like this, or this, or this.
Why God? Why Dost Thou Taunt Me So?

Not satisfied with their mangling of Coupling, NBC's decided to creat an American version of The Office. Mark my words -- Brent will end up being a bumbling but lovable boss, not the racist jerkwad sociopath he is on the British version.
Bush Finds the Right Analogy

During his visit to the Philippines, President Bush compared the reconstruction of Iraq to the American occupation of the islands. The New York Times notes that,

    the comparison has less power to reassure, given that the Philippine government did not gain full autonomy for five decades
but ignores the far more pertinent fact that the country was plagued by rebels for most of the occupation, and the US lost more troops putting down the insurgencies than in the Spanish-Amercan War itself. So, yes, Bush is quite right to point to the Philipinnes now, and anyone who wants a good idea of what's ahead for us in Iraq should read up on the occupation.
Freedom of Speech vs. Freedom from Criticism

Just to prove that Easterbrook isn't a total idiot, here's an excellent article he wrote on Freedom of Speech after 11 September.
More Easterbrook

After Easterbrook's apology yesterday, I thought the whole controversy would simmer down. Apparently not.

Roger L. Simon had pretty much the same reaction as I did, and accepted the apology with reservations, while Meryl Yourish accepted it straight out, but now appears to be having second thoughts.

Meanwhile, the New York and L.A. Times have both picked up the story, with the latter taking a very hard-line stance on the matter which I'm not sure I agree with.

And on top of this, Simon says ESPN has fired Easterbrook. I agree with Simon that this is an overreaction, because

  1. he made the comment in The New Republic not his ESPN column,

  2. unlike Limbaugh's comments regarding Donovan McNabb, these have nothing to do with Easterbrook's ability to cover sports, and

  3. he seems genuinely upset that he made the comment -- even if I don't think he quite understands the full extent of what he said -- indicating to me that these ideas have been inculcated into his head, but he doesn't conciously believe them.
Furthermore, I don't think the problem here is anti-semitism -- or at least, not limited to anti-semitisim. What I mean is that Easterbrook's article indicates that he believes a person's group identity is at least as important as his individual identity, and in some areas his group identity should subsume his individuality. Nothing in his writings indicate that he thinks this is limited to inherent -- racial and ethnic -- groups. Indeed he says he expects more from Christians as well as Jews. It's sort of a fratboy mentality writ large -- if you're part of a group, whether by choice, chance, or genetics, you should behave as part of that group regardless of what you personally think. I think that's a rather disgusting mentality, but I don't know if I'd actually call it racist.
Isn't This a Bit Redundant?

Wow! Legs and thighs?

2003/10/17

Gregg Easterbrook

For all of you searching for info on Gregg Easterbrook's Kill Bill review, his original article is here, and my take on it is here.

UPDATE: Easterbrook has put up an apology:

    I'm ready to defend all the thoughts in that paragraph. But how could I have done such a poor job of expressing them? Maybe this is an object lesson in the new blog reality. I worked on this alone and posted the piece--what you see above comes at the end of a 1,017-word column that's otherwise about why movies should not glorify violence. Twenty minutes after I pressed "send," the entire world had read it. When I reread my own words and beheld how I'd written things that could be misunderstood, I felt awful. To anyone who was offended I offer my apology, because offense was not my intent. But it was 20 minutes later, and already the whole world had seen it.

    Looking back I did a terrible job through poor wording. It was terrible that I implied that the Jewishness of studio executives has anything whatsoever to do with awful movies like Kill Bill. Nothing about Eisner or Weinstein causes any movie to be bad or awful; they're just supervisors. For all I know neither of them even focused on the adoration-of-violence aspect until the reviews came out. My attempt to connect my perfectly justified horror at an ugly and corrupting movie to the religious faith and ethnic identity of certain executives was hopelessly clumsy.

    Where I failed most is in the two sentences about adoration of money. I noted that many Christian executives adore money above all else, and in the 20-minute reality of blog composition, that seemed to me, writing it, fairness and fair spreading of blame. But accusing a Christian of adoring money above all else does not engage any history of ugly stereotypes. Accuse a Jewish person of this and you invoke a thousand years of stereotypes about that which Jews have specific historical reasons to fear. What I wrote here was simply wrong, and for being wrong, I apologize.
Much better (though Instapundit wonders what took so long), however I still take issue with part of his original reasoning, which he repeats in the apology when trying to explain what he really meant:

    But those running Disney and Miramax are not Christian, they're Jewish. Learning this did in no way still my sense of outrage regarding Kill Bill. How, I wondered, could anyone Jewish--members of a group who suffered the worst act of violence in all history, and who suffer today, in Israel, intolerable violence--seek profit from a movie that glamorizes violence as cool fun?
I find highly offensive the suggestion that being part of a group -- be it religious, ethnic, or racial -- means you have to behave differently from the rest of humanity in accordance with your group's history. He's suggesting there's something wrong with putting your group identity aside and behaving as an individual with personal taste.

If Easterbrook thinks that producing Kill Bill was wrong, it should be equally wrong regardless of the person doing it.
Non-POW Prisoners of War

Good article from Volokh on what the Geneva Convention says about what constitutes a POW. The bottom line is we're in violation of the Third Convention, but not in the way human rights groups usually claim.

2003/10/16

How Do You Make the Blocks Blow Up

Now this is just depressing -- a computer game magazine had some kids play a bunch of old video games to see what they thought of the classics, and ... ach! Just look at their reaction to Tetris:

    Tim: Which button do I press to make the blocks explode?

    EGM: Sorry, they don't explode.

    Becky: This is boring. Maybe if it had characters and stuff and different levels, it would be OK. If things blew up or something or--

    Sheldon: If there were bombs.

    Becky: Yeah, or special bricks. Like, if a yellow brick touched a red brick it would blow up and you'd have to start over.

    John: Why haven't I won yet? I've paired up so many of the same color.

    EGM: Don't worry about colors.

    John: I just lined up six of the same color. Why didn't they blow up?

    EGM: Nothing blows up.
Sigh. I feel so old.

(Tip o' the pin to Wil Wheaton)
Well Now, Isn't This Lovely

Malaysian PM Mahathir Mohamad was a rousing success at the Organization of Islamic Conferences.

    Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said Muslims for years believed mistakenly that Islam rejected new technology and progress. He urged Muslims worldwide to ignore teachings by religious fundamentalists that scientific studies are somehow un-Islamic.

    "We need guns and rockets, bombs and warplanes, tanks and warships for our defense," Mahathir told leaders from 57 nations gathered for a summit of the Organization of the Islamic Conference in Malaysia's new capital, Putrajaya.
Yes, it's so obvious now -- science is good, because it helps you make bigger and better weapons!

    Mahathir launched a blistering attack on what he described as Jewish domination of the world and Muslim nations' inability to adequately respond to it.

    "The Europeans killed 6 million Jews out of 12 million,
Credit where it's due -- Germany killed 6 million Jews. Minds of metal, those Germans.

    but today the Jews rule the world by proxy," Mahathir said. "They get others to fight and die for them."
Yeah, well, see, Jehovah promised me 76 bi-curious virgins; Allah could only offer 72, and most of them were prudish. Sorry, but He Who Is Called I Am has a better selection of babes -- I'm dyin' for him.

(Jesus wasn't even in the running -- the only virgin he could offer was his mother, and she's looking like Carol Channing these days. It was either her or his Twelve Disciples. Ugh. No.)

    "We are up against a people who think. They survived 2000 years of pogroms not by hitting back but by thinking," Mahathir said.
He says this like it's a bad thing.

    "They invented Socialism, Communism, human rights
The Jews invented human rights? The bastards!

    and democracy
The Greeks were Jewish? Heh. You learn something new every day.

    so that persecuting them would appear to be wrong, so that they can enjoy equal rights with others."
And this is the guy who says he's not a fundamentalist.

    "With these they have now gained control of the most powerful countries and they, this tiny community, have become a world power."
No, you're thinking of cats. I know, it's easy to confuse the two, but here's the key -- most Jews are too big to lie on your lap.

    Mahathir said that "1.3 billion Muslims cannot be defeated by a few million Jews. There must be a way."
Here's an idea -- stop sponsoring groups dedicated the ellimination of Jews.

    He suggested new tactics other than lashing out violently against "the enemy,"
So that's why he thinks Muslims need to get better at designing weapons.

    including leveraging the political, economic and demographic forces at the disposal of Muslim nations, calling for a "strategic retreat" and reassessment that would lead to "final victory."
"Final victory" against the Jews? There's something vaguely familiar about that phrase. What could it be?

Thankfully this dumbass won't be a world leader for much longer:

    For Mahathir, a senior statesmen in the developing world who has turned his country into the world's 17th-ranked trading nation, the summit marks one of the last opportunities to take the podium on the world stage before retiring on Oct. 31 after 22 years in power.
A Sure-Fire Hit

Harry Knowles, creator of Aint It Cool News, has announced that he has a production deal with Revolution Studios. Well, now, if everyone who reads AICN and doesn't think Harry's a bloated sellout goes to see it, it should earn $5.50.

I think this pretty much destroys whatever credibility AICN ever had -- I mean, can you picture him running a bad review of one of Revolution's cheesy slasher films when they're giving him money to make one of their cheesy slasher films? Okay, he says he won't pull his punches. But this is a guy famous for stealing stories from other sites and gussying them up to look like his own scoops.
Americoupling Dies a Quick Death

The American incarnation of Coupling looks like a goner. It hasn't been officially canceled, but NBC's pulled it from the schedule until at least after November sweeps.

Lisa de Moraes also notes that WETA in Washington pulled their airings of the original Coupling after only one week.

    The WETA rep acknowledged yesterday that some staffers "were questioning how ['Coupling'] fit into the mission" of WETA.
I dunno, maybe it was an entertaining show that people'd tune in to watch? They ran the whole first season during their Saturday Britcom slot last summer, and it seemed to fit right in their with Mrs. Slocombe's pussy.

This is why I watch Maryland Public Television.
When Protesters Attack

Here's an interesting article on the anti-Israel conference at Rutgers this past weekend. Nice to see the group is tolerant of ... well, I was going to say dissent, but I don't think a camera alone carries enough of a political message to qualify. But clearly they were demonstrating their immense tolerence of something.
Weekend at Popies

I just saw some news coverage of the Pope's anniversary celebration, and it looks suspiciously like a scene from Weekend at Bernie's. Even when he moves his arm, it looks like it could be on a string.
Oh, Joyous Day! Oh Frabjous Day! Calhoo! Callay!

Aide admits Arafat's had a heart attack. He says it was only a minor heart-attack ('Tis only a flesh wound!), and that the Palestinian Authority wants to keep it on the QT for fear of a panic. Still, I think this is a sign we should start chilling the champagne.
Stupid White Man

Spinsanity has two new articles on Michael Moore's new book.

2003/10/15

This Election Has Experienced a Fatal Exception Error

After ragging on Salon yesterday, I have to admit this article on electronic voting is excellent, and everyone should read it. I find it particularly reassuring that the person in charge of the machines is lambasting anyone who criticizes the system.
Donald Rumsfeld, Peacenik?

According to an upcoming book, The Rise of the Vulcans (doesn't that just sound like a Star Trek movie?), Richard Nixon seriously considered firing Rumsfeld for being too dovish.
Gregg Easterbrook Goes Stoopid

When I first saw Gregg Easterbrook's blog entry on Kill Bill, I just skipped right over it -- I read the first paragraph and realized it was going to be a long rant about how Tarantino sucks and his films are too violent. (In other words, Easterbrook doesn't like his movies, so they can't be any good, now can they? Doesn't matter that there are millions of people, from average film goers, to film-makers, to critics, who disagree -- they must be wrong, or misled, or just trying to look kewl.)

But then I saw this post from Meryl Yourish in which she points to this passage:

    Set aside what it says about Hollywood that today even Disney thinks what the public needs is ever-more-graphic depictions of killing the innocent as cool amusement. Disney's CEO, Michael Eisner, is Jewish; the chief of Miramax, Harvey Weinstein, is Jewish. Yes, there are plenty of Christian and other Hollywood executives who worship money above all else, promoting for profit the adulation of violence. Does that make it right for Jewish executives to worship money above all else, by promoting for profit the adulation of violence?
Jesus, Zeus, and Buddha! Okay, maybe he just badly phrased that. Maybe the juxtaposition of "Jewish executives" with "worship money above all else" was just a mistake.

Except that the way he throws in that comment about "Christian and other Hollywood executives" seems way too defensive, too much like the guy who says "some of my best friends are black" right before telling a racist joke. (In fact, it sounds like something David Brent would say.)

But he doesn't stop there. Oh, no, he goes on:

    Recent European history alone ought to cause Jewish executives to experience second thoughts about glorifying the killing of the helpless as a fun lifestyle choice.
This is coming awfully close to drawing a moral equivalence between the Holocaust and violent films. And it's the people who make the films who are at fault, not the audience that creates a market for them? As Roger L. Simon points out, if Eisner and Weinstein hadn't made the movie, other studios would've lined up for dibs.

And what's with this assertion that Jews should be more sensitve about violent films than the rest of us because of the Holocaust? Should I be more sensitive about the dangers of relying on a single monocultured crop because my ancestors died in the Irish Potato Famine? Does being related to a victim mean that you have a higher standard to live up to? I don't think so.

    But history is hardly the only concern. Films made in Hollywood are now shown all over the world, to audiences that may not understand the dialogue or even look at the subtitles, but can't possibly miss the message--now Disney's message--that hearing the screams of the innocent is a really fun way to express yourself.
Ah, so now the money grubbing Jew executives are also encouraging violence in the world by foisting bloody movies on the weak-minded inhabitants of other countries -- inhabitants who would never act violently if they didn't see these gory American films. And I'm sure they wouldn't be having premarital sex or using drugs either. I mean, all these things are products of mass media, aren't they?

UPDATE: Reading the comments on Roger L. Simon's site, the David Brent comparison seems even more apt, not just for Easterbrook, but his defenders. A disturbing number of people have chimed in that Easterbrook isn't beind anti-semitic because his criticisms are actually showing a positive view of Jews -- he thinks that they should know better than to put out violence, as though they're better than the rest of us.

Compare that attitude to the scene in the second season premiere of The Office where Brent tells an off-color joke involving the size of a black man's penis. When his underlings go to his boss to complain, he defends himself by suggesting it's not a racist stereotype because it's complimentary.

Saying Jews should behave better than everyone else is anti-semitic because it suggests they aren't ordinary humans suceptible to the same weaknesses, tastes, and desires as the rest of us.

The other thing that disturbs me in the comments is the number of people who think Simon's overreacting by focusing on 80 odd words out of 800. What, if I wrote an article on American cuisine, but I only mentioned that blacks like fried chicken and watermelon in one paragraph, it wouldn't be racist? I must've been abscent the day they taught that in school.

2003/10/14

If We Talk About Sex, Will You Read Us?

Salon is getting desperate. Their top three stories are all about sex. It's as though they're in dire straights and need to drum up business because their attempts to earn money aren't working. Nah, that couldn't be.

They also have an article on titled "Betraying the Kurds Again?" Too bad Tim Noah's been covering the story for 226 days over at Slate.
Lost in Translation

This is a rather silly article. Besides the fact that the author seems to think that comic-books are animated, he asks "why a nation with one of the world's highest literacy rates would become so obsessed with cartoons[?]" Why should the two have anything to do with each other? Does being literate somehow mean you don't want to watch cartoons or read comics? This will certainly come as a surprise to all the comic geeks I know who have all the Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Wheel of Time books.
Howard Dean: Crafty Moderate Disguised as a Liberal?

William Saletan has a new article on why Howard Dean not only isn't a crazy leftist that he appeared to be early in the campaign, but is actually a fairly sensible moderate who could nudge swing voters away from Bush.
This is Helen?




This stick of a girl is who's been cast as the Face That Launched a Thousand Ships?
More Kucinich

To quote Sheridan Whiteside, "I may vomit."
One Nation, Under Cthulhu

If you're interested in the Supreme Court's decision to hear the Pledge case and Justice Scalia's recusal, Eugene Volokh is all over the story.
If Kucinich Wins, Buy Peanut Futures, 'Cause He's Fuckin' Nuts

There's one in every Presidential election nowadays -- a chipmunk-faced extremist whose poll numbers are the statistical equivalent of zero, but nonetheless believes he is Right and that the People, deep down, agree with him. In 2000 it was Gary Bauer. This time around, it's Dennis Kucinich. Listening to and reading his platform, I can't tell whether he's insane or stupid -- or possibly both.

One of his big ideas is to gut the Department of Defense and establish the Ministry^H^H^H^H^H^H^HDepartment of Peace, which would not only abolish war, but work to end domestic violence, child abuse, and gangs. I just wonder if he'll follow Orwell all the way and create a Department of Love to ensure that everyone loves his fellow man, and a Department of Plenty to provide sufficient food for everyone. Because Ghu knows, creating a government agency is a sure-fire way to solve a problem. I mean, think about how much safer you are since the Department of Homeland Security came into being, and look at the wonderful job the DEA has done in getting rid of drugs.

Does Kucinich honestly believe that if we threw down our weapons and declared our good will towards the world, our enemies would smile and say, "Shucks, I guess you're pretty swell," and go home? If so, his level of naivete strays into the realm of pure idiocy -- the sort of idiocy that leads people to keep a tiger in their apartment, or to try and pet a grizzly bear. I'm sorry to tell him, in the commity of nations, the countries with pointy-sticks lead. Declaring that you won't use your stick is a guarateed way to get your eyes poked out.

But Kucinich doesn't seem to care about such things. In an interview with CNN, he said, "We need to get the U.N. in and the U.S. out. We have to bring our troops home." Yes, let's just reinforce the image of the US as a paper-tiger that'll retreat if it gets a bloody nose. Brilliant! That's not going to encourage al Qaeda or North Korea or the religious extremists in Iran.

Regardless of the merits of the war, pulling out now would be an error of Biblical proportions. Jebus, even Howard Dean recognizes that -- and thank Ghu people have the sense to support the anti-war candidate with a brain.
The War on Movie Critics

If you live in the South, you'll occassionally see people with bumper-stickers or T-shirts that proclaim "THE SOUTH WILL RISE AGAIN!" Now you'd think they mean something involving lots of guns and "heroic" stands against the government, kinda like the tin-foil hat squads up in Montana and Idaho. But no. Apparently "rise again" merely means writing angry letters to get a museum curator fired because he had the nerve to write a review of Gods and Generals in which he suggests that slavery actually was the central issue of the Civil War.

UPDATE: And in the great tradition of the Confederacy, the attempt failed.
The Crimson Jihad Strike Back

I'm trying to decide whether this is funny, immensely offensive, or both.

2003/10/13

Quantitative Words Are a Way for the Patriarchy to Dominate Women!

This is a rather interesting tool. It's your standard gender test, except instead of asking you inane questions, it analyzes writing samples. (Well, that and it's based on real academic research.) Some of the determining factors used by the algorithm are interesting, like the fact that articles and quantifiers are strongly masculine whereas pronouns are feminine. I can hear Andrea Dworkin now -- "Obviuosly words that quantify the world are just part of the male drive to subjugate nature. Teaching about definite and indefinite articles in textbooks is an attempt to repress the female mind while it's still young and impressionable! Teaching grammar in elementary school is raping the minds of little girls!"

However, the research could help writers since it gives them subtle ways to make their female characters sound more feminine, and male characters masculine. I mean, how many times have you read a book where there's nothing to distinguish scenes told from male and female point-of-view except what the author tells you? Now authors know to go through scenes involving women characters and remove some of the thes, or add them into scenes with men, subliminally changing the reader's perceptions.