Saturday, October 22, 2005

Southland Tales


My brother would be the first to tell you that I like some weird little movies. But in fairness, most of the weird little movies I like are really good movies. If you haven't seen Primer, Bubba Ho-Tep, Frailty, or Donnie Darko, you're missing out on some Grade-A trippy cinema.

Southland Tales seems firmly rooted in the proud tradition of weird-ass film, and as of now, it's my most anticipated film of 2006.

The official site

USIDent

Treer Products

Krysta Now

See? Weird. But interesting.

Friday, October 21, 2005

The Unfunniness Strikes Back

High-sterical.
Good job beating everyone to the Moore-bashing punch, Carl Moore (!). You tackle such fresh material. Look! Michael Moore is fat! And he's a friend of Saddam!


Bill Clinton hugs people a lot, but not his wife? And Bush screwed up Katrina. I'm not sure what the joke is here. Is it that Clinton would have hugged the problem away?

Carl Moore, you are an unfunny man. Yet, to your credit, you draw me back every once in a while just to marvel at your staleness.

I should point out that a cartoon featuring a badly-caricatured George Bush saying "Internets!" would not make me laugh any more than these did. It's cheap, easy "humor."

(courtesy of comics.com)

Thumbs Up and Thumbs Down for Republicans

From the Wall Street Journal:
On Wednesday, Republicans voted in near unison to approve the so-called cheeseburger bill, blocking lawsuits blaming restaurants for causing obesity.
Good for you, guys. Suing a restaurant for making you fat is ridiculous behavior.
Next week, House Republicans plan to vote to cut $50 billion from federal spending over the next five years, $15 billion more than they planned to cut a few weeks ago. Before the end of the year, House Republicans also will take votes on an across-the-board cut in federal spending, legislation to extend Mr. Bush's 15% tax rates on capital gains and dividends and a border-security bill that has been celebrated by conservatives.
Cuts in Federal spending are, at this point in time (thanks, in no small part at all, to our recent habit of spending money like its water), necessary. We as a country cannot afford to continue doling out cash at the rate we've been at. It's stupid behavior.

But to cut spending on federal programs while concurrently keeping the tax breaks given to the super-rich is bad news bears, fellas. We're in a time of war. In World War II, the entire country was asked to sacrifice for the greater good. You guys are always going on about the "Greatest Generation." Well, step up to the plate and sacrifice a little for the general welfare. It's not like its your sons and daughters doing the fighting over there now.

(courtesy of alicublog)

Heat or Eat?

From SeattlePi.com:
For the second time this month, the Senate voted against putting more money into a program that helps low-income families meet home heating costs.

Senators who opposed the $3.1 billion in emergency money for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program said the aid would be dealt with as part of a larger emergency spending bill that Congress probably will consider soon.

So...when will that be? Because it's the middle of October now and with heating costs expected to increase by 50%, the families that actually need this assistance will be (pardon the pun, please) left in the cold.

Of course, there's the argument that our Government shouldn't be assisting these people at all, but since the program's been in place since 1974, surviving the Reagan, Bush the first, and Bush the second years, I think it's safe to say that some aid is accepted across party lines.

That aid was initially placed at $1.9 billion in '74, so the increase seems to account for inflation.

What's the Mathematical Algorithm for Lawsuit?

From BBC News:

The Association of American Publishers, which includes firms such as Penguin, has filed a suit in New York claiming Google will infringe their copyrights.

As part of its Print Library Project, Google plans to index and scan millions of books from five major libraries...

...Once the texts are digitised, users would not be able to download or print the whole book, but would be able to view a few sentences from each.

Copyright holders have until 1 November to contact Google and get their titles removed from the list of those books to be scanned.

However, the publishers say that does not go far enough and want the whole process to stop and have called on the court to grant them an injunction claiming they are suffering "continuing, irreparable and imminent harm".


On the one hand, I can see why publishers would react in this fashion. Even if Google's making "a few sentences" available, it's still courting infringement to have an author's work digitized and potentially available for pirating.

Still, has this arm of the entertainment industry learned nothing from its film and music brethren? Your work is going to get online. It's inevitable, at this point. Instead of fighting change reactively, why not work with Google to insure your copyrights are protected, and use this as a springboard to begin offering your authors' texts online legally?


Thursday, October 20, 2005

Symbols

From commondreams:

“Everything in the Gospel rejects what flags stand for: boundaries, hatreds, creation of enemies,” Kobasa says. “For a Catholic Christian school that holds up the crucifix as a symbol of God’s love, the flag can only be a contradiction. The Church can only function with its prophetic voice by standing outside the state.”

For the past six years, whenever he found an American flag in his classroom he removed it, he says.That never caused a problem until this semester, he adds. At a faculty meeting in August, he says, a new policy came down from the board of education at the Bridgeport diocese: The school day would begin with a prayer and a pledge of allegiance...

“I met with the principal, and she said she was aware that I had not been doing the pledge, but that now there would be a problem because it was the policy,” he recalls. “So what I offered was an arrangement by which any students who wanted to make this oath of fealty could do so with a flag that they could have available. But only for the duration of the pledge itself, and then the flag would once again be removed.”

“Ten days later, I was called down to her office, at which point she announces that this compromise, which she thought would be acceptable, is not,” he recalls. The superintendent of schools, Dr. Margaret Dames, warned that “if I refused to accept the policy, that would be taken as an indication that I no longer wished to work for that school system.”



Well, they fired him.
Symbols are powerful things. All of us have various symbols in our lives which affect us in ways we don't ever really think about. They fascinate me, personally. There is a power to symbols, and to symbolism, that is both awe-inspiring and frightening. The ancients knew this, and used talismans, crests, and other symbolic objects in ways both holy and decidedly secular. Adolph Hitler was obsessive when it came to the power of the symbolic and in the span of decades totally corrupted a symbol of spiritual power into a sigul of hatred and fear.

Today, symbols retain enormous cultural, psychological, spiritual, and emotional heft. The "golden arches," Mickey Mouse, the Apple logo, even "Juicy" tracksuits; All of them have transcended their primary designated purpose (which is to identify a product), and assumed "life" that transcends that first purpose, imbuing the symbols themselves with "meanings" that go beyond product identification. Symbols like these assume a larger life through their assimilation into the public consciousness, and they are given meaning by the people who adopt them. "Juicy" no longer simply identifies the product. It identifies the person wearing that product, and the person who purchases it seeks out and desires that identity-transference.

When a fan of Farewell Radiance (an excellent metal band worth your time and hard earned money - check out their link in my "Musica" section) buys a t-shirt with their logo emblazoned on it, they are looking to be identified with that product in the eyes of others. The act of wearing your favorite band's t-shirt creates identity for yourself and for anyone who sees you wear it.

The danger that adopting a symbol creates is that, over time, the symbol comes to mean more than what it is supposed to represent. This happens all the time. Symbols contain only the meaning that's given to them. They do not exist in-and-of-themselves as divine representations. Having "Juicy" written on your ass means nothing. But because our culture has decided that "Juicy" suits are (or were) "hott," wearing Juicy now "means" that you are either "sexy and fashionable" or "shallow and materialistic." Neither of these opinions is empirically true. Wearing Juicy does not make you either sexy, or shallow (it does, however, appear to signify a certain willingness to follow trends). It doesn't "make" you anything. Wearing Juicy (and how I regret choosing this as my example now, after typing that word umpteen times) makes you clothed.

Which brings us, finally, to the meat of my point. We as Americans have always had a quasi-religious relationship with our flag. We worship it, in a very true sense of the word. We attempt to keep people from harming it by creating punishments, we have specific ways of treating, storing, and respecting it. We swear allegiance before it.
None of these things is negative, inherently. But there is a danger inherent in the worshipping of symbols. If you're religious, you already know that the worship of false idols is a sin in the eyes of God. In fact, under the OT's Jehovah, the Catholic church's inclusion of the figure of Christ on the cross is, in fact, the worship of a graven image. Thou shalt not do that, yo.

It's also dangerous in a purely secular, political, sense. In Scott McClouds wonderful book, "The New Adventures of Abraham Lincoln," McCloud has Lincoln address the modern-day American people on just this very topic.

My friends. My fellow Americans. I can't tell you what you want to hear. I don't know how to be your symbol. Even in my day, I was a little too human for the job. [referring to the Lincoln memorial] It was you who built this temple. It was you who carved this body out of marble and set it on a throne. All I gave you was an old man's leathery skin to stretch out upon the drafting table, to begin to diagram your future.
Not that it isn't flattering. Don't get me wrong. I did want you to like me. Why, in my day, it looked like I might be remembered as the worst president of all time. Now, some say I was the best? That sure is nice.

Of course, getting shot probably helped.
Shot by Booth.
Who, by the way, wasn't half the actor that his father was!

...What was I talking about? AH! Symbols, America, can be useful tools. But beware of those who would have you used by them! Some of their symbols are pictures, some are familiar phrases, some mere gestures. They are all designed to steal your hearts, America, but care little for your minds.

It is your duty to assign both organs to attend them.

Otherwise, Dear friends, there may yet come a day when a red, white and blue rectangle of weather-beaten fabric hoist upon a metal pole may be raised in importance high above the freedoms it once so humbly represented.

Our flag stands for a lot of things, but in and of itself, our flag stands for nothing. We endow it with our own beliefs; and what it represents depends entirely upon what we project upon it. Here, a man has lost his job because keeping a secular symbol permanently up in the classroom is apparently more important than his educational services, or the church's own teachings on the worship of false idols and graven images. Perhaps this guy was just a lousy teacher, and the school was looking for a good excuse to can him. But if that is the case, this hardly qualifies as a "good excuse."
One of the freedoms our flag humbly represents is freedom of religion, in practice and in personal belief. Kabosa's belief that God frowns upon the display of national symbols was set aside so that the symbol of those beliefs could remain.


Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Battlin' Bill O'Reilly VS. Jaunty Jon Stewart!

Bill O'Reilly's fun to watch when he's uncomfortable.

Tonight, O'Reilly was the guest on Jon Stewart's Daily Show. They've been guesting on each other's programs for over a year now, and each time they get together there's a crackle of tension between them that's fascinating. Here's a sample of their banter, taken from the September 17th, 2004 edition of "The O'Reilly Factor:"

O'REILLY: OK. You know what's really frightening?

STEWART: Uh oh.

O'REILLY: You know what's really frightening?

STEWART: You've been reading my diary.

O'REILLY: You actually have an influence on this presidential election. That is scary.

STEWART: If that were so, that would be quite frightening.

O'REILLY: But it is. It's true. I mean, you've got stoned slackers watching your dopey show every night, OK, and they can vote.

STEWART: What am I, a Cheech and Chong movie? Stoned slackers?

O'REILLY: Come on, you do the research, you know the research on your program.

STEWART: No, we don't.

O'REILLY: Eighty-seven percent are intoxicated when they watch it. You didn't see that?

STEWART: No, I didn't realize that.

O'REILLY: Yeah, we have that there.

STEWART: We come on right after, I believe, puppets that make crank calls...

O'REILLY: Yeah.

STEWART: ... so we are, I think, the appropriate follow up...

O'REILLY: Yeah, and that's a great lead-in for you.

You should really read the whole thing - it's hilarious.
Anyhow, they were at it again tonight. O'Reilly accused Stewart of adding "insult to injury" by turning every issue into a joke. Stewart's response? "We add insult to injury, but you add injury."

Comedy gold.

You should be able to see the interview soon on Comedy Central's site right HERE.







Monday, October 17, 2005

The Medium(s) of Photography


Went to the Met yesterday for their new exhibit "The Perfect Medium: Photography and the Occult."

I've had a deep, abiding interest in all things "spiritual" from a young age. Whether its the Occult, world-religion, mythology, or my own Judeo-Christianity, I've always been fascinated by the mechanics of belief, and by the power of it; both negative and positive. Despite this, I've never seen any of the photographs taken during Spiritualism's heyday.

What struck me most about the photos was the realization that we have changed so very little, despite our technological advances. Our collective desire to believe in Greater Powers is a constant of the human condition. How else do you explain the willingness to view obvious trickery as evidence of spiritual forces?

Three of the first spiritualism celebrities were the Fox girls, three young women from New York. They claimed to be able to communicate with the ghost of a murdered peddler through a self-invented Morse code of raps and taps. When Margaret Fox eventually confessed to having faked the entire thing, the President of the First Spiritual Society of New York refused to believe her confession.
The idea of claiming that unseen "rappings" can be produced with joints of the feet! If she says this, even with regard to her own manifestations, she lies! I and many other men of truth and position have witnessed the manifestations of herself and her sisters many times under circumstances in which it was absolutely impossible for there to have been the least fraud.
(quote courtesy of Arthur Conan Doyle, Spiritualism, and Fairies)

That's some serious denial. It shows the president to be one of two things; a man so devoted to the idea of communication with the dead that he will dismiss any claim to the contrary, or a fellow charlatan afraid of losing the shield of validity.

The exhibit at the Met is full of photos that require a person to adopt this attitude. Many of the photos are such obvious fakes that one should rightfully question the overall sanity of the person who defends them.

And yet.

Maybe you've heard of Ted Serios? Maybe, but probably not. Ted Serios was a self-proclaimed psychic with the supposed ability to "project" his thoughts onto polaroid film. Despite Serios' documented history of alcoholism and mental fragility, various photographs he produced have never been adequately debunked. James Randi, a stage magician and professional skeptic, managed to artificially recreate Serios' ability but despite this, Serios' "power" has never been explained away. The conditions under which he created his photos have continued to indicate the possibility that he actually did possess the talent to create photos with thought.

Some of the photos Serios created are on display as well, and their inclusion provides the question mark at the end of the exhibit. Yes, 99% of the photos are obviously bogus. But that 1% of still-unexplained phenomena sustains the keen, doubleedged sword of belief. People want to believe in powers greater than themselves, and in the mystery of the world around us. All too often, we are willing to suspend disbelief past the breaking point in order to sustain those longings. The pictures on display in The Perfect Medium are a mirror in which we can see the most hopeful, naive portions of ourselves. But in the photos of Ted Serios, the pictures become a window into a larger, unknown world. It's a window we all seek, to one extent or another. We seek it in the practice of religion and in the calling of psychic hotlines. We seek it with such ferocity of purpose that the fakery of photos ceases to matter in the blinding ache of our need.


Prom Go Bye-Bye

Courtesy of the muthafunkin CNN:

UNIONDALE, New York (AP) -- Brother Kenneth M. Hoagland had heard all the stories about prom-night debauchery at his Long Island high school:

Students putting down $10,000 to rent a party house in the Hamptons.

Pre-prom cocktail parties followed by a trip to the dance in a liquor-loaded limo.

Fathers chartering a boat for their children's late-night "booze cruise."

Enough was enough, Hoagland said. So the principal of Kellenberg Memorial High School canceled the spring prom in a 2,000-word letter to parents this fall.

"It is not primarily the sex/booze/drugs that surround this event, as problematic as they might be; it is rather the flaunting of affluence, assuming exaggerated expenses, a pursuit of vanity for vanity's sake -- in a word, financial decadence," Hoagland said, fed up with what he called the "bacchanalian aspects."

Hoagland's got nards. It's nice to see the support he seems to be recieving.
My senior prom involved a Hamptons house, a limo, drinkin', and time spent watching my date vomit into a toilet. Overall, a less-than-sparkling experience.


Die Partie Uber Alles

Americablog gets ticked:

We're at war, George Bush keeps reminding us. We cannot continue with business as usual. A pre-9/11 mentality is deadly. Putting the lives of our troops at risk is treason.


Then why is the White House and the Republican party engaged in a concerted campaign to make treason acceptable during a time of war? That's exactly what they're doing. On numerous news shows today, Republican surrogates, their talking points ready, issued variations of the following concerning White House chief of staff Karl Rove's outing of a covert CIA agent as part of a political vendetta:

- It's the criminalization of politics
- Is this 'minor' leak really worth all this?
- Political payback is common and should not be criminalized
- Mis-speaking or mis-remembering is not a crime

America is ignoring the Geneva Conventions because our president feels that winning this war is so paramount. Our Congress has watered down our civil rights laws. We have jailed American citizens with no access to legal counsel. And our President even believes it is worth lying to the American people in order to wage this so-important battle. All this because we are a nation at war and nothing will be permitted to stand in the way of this life-and-death struggle.

But when a senior aide to the President of the United States endangers the life of an undercover CIA agent, her colleagues and contacts around the world - when he chooses to put at risk our entire effort to undercover weapons of mass destruction before they are used to kill millions in an American city - what response do we get from the Bush White House and the Republican Party? A defensive (offensive) shrug.





The Republican party is not "the party of treason," a statement of overgeneralization that weakens the effectiveness of the writer's overall point. I'm prone to overgeneralization/sarcasm myself, from time to time. But I try to stay away from coloring in blacks and whites. There are plenty of good, honest conservatives that care about this country.

Yet, the writer's anger (obvious and blistering as it is) is, I think, understandable. Many of the people now reiterating the above-listed talking points were outraged over President Clinton's indiscretions, and his subsequent lies about them. Whether or not getting a blowjob constituted a betrayal of the office of the Presidency, and of the American people, is a separately arguable issue. The issue here, is whether the outing of Plame is on the same level. I would argue that it's actually far more serious.

The outing of Valerie Plame would be despicable to me, even if she were the only person affected by it. She has operated in a capacity that awes me. Spy movies usually contain a scene in which a representative of the government informs the agent that, if captured or killed, the agent will be disavowed by them. Valerie Plame was one of those people.

But its not just Plame that was affected by this disclosure. Her entire "network" was compromised. People as far away as Europe and Africa, and as close to home as Washington, D.C., were put into danger. Anyone who'd helped her, unwittingly or otherwise, in her capacity as an operative was exposed along with her. If Valerie Plame was retired, that does not change the work she did during her time as a covert operative. It does not decrease the threat of retaliation against the people she worked with, and for.

Whether or not anyone involved has actually been hurt or killed as a result of this is entirely beside the point. The point is that our intelligence agency and their operative were compromised. Seemingly willfully, and in service of a vendetta. That is an offense which conservatives, with their oft-professed concern over national security and the safety of the American people, should find just as greivous, if not moreso, than any democrat or independent.
This is not to say that Karl Rove is guilty of anything, but this offense is serious. Calling it a "criminalization of politics" is insulting. Not to me, but to the agents who give their lives in the service of our country without any of us ever knowing they have done so.