The "joke"

>> Thursday, September 30, 2010

The "joke"

The joke is that the tables have turned on CNN. Using hot blondes to seduce interviewees to get screwed on television, you are faux seducing her in order to screw her on television.

-"Ben," explaining the premise of the "CNN Caper"
somehow intended to embarrass CNN journalist Abbie Boudreau

I don't get it.

By now you've probably heard about this whole business about James "I'm Not A Pimp But I Play One On Hidden Video" O'Keefe trying to "punk" (this keeps showing up in quotes) a CNN newscaster. If you're arriving late, what happened is a CNN reporter, Abbie Boudreau, was doing a report on young conservatives, and she wanted to talk to James O'Keefe, the guy who catapulted himself into fame by shooting the infamous ACORN video and then getting himself arrested trying to break into a congresswoman's office. O'Keefe evidently was going to pull a "prank" (these quotation marks are distressingly necessary) by meeting Ms. Boudreau on a houseboat decked out with a bunch of crap from an adult novelties store, where he was going to "pretend" to "seduce" her.

Do you get it? Explain it to me. Seriously.

I mean, I honestly don't get what the gag is. I get that some conservatives have decided to out-Michael-Moore Michael Moore in spite of the fact that Moore has gone from being a guy who used visual ironies to say some interesting and provocative things to being a guy who's really increasingly strident and irrelevant. (And I say this as a former fan who has a couple of Moore's books on his shelves at home, one who faithfully watched TV Nation back in the day and one who has seen most of Moore's movies.) I'm not sure why they want to do that, in other words, but I get that that's the deal. What I don't get is why they're so intent on being so strikingly unclever and unfunny in the way they're going about it, or why they're incapable of seeing that Moore's schtick, when it works, actually has a point in illustrating some sort of obvious dissonance between stated and actual realities.

If this latest effort had actually... I don't know if "succeeded" is the right word, but we'll go with it: if it had actually "succeeded," what would it have shown? That a CNN reporter can be embarrassed? That CNN reporters show up to do preliminary interviews and sometimes their subjects act like horny seventeen year-olds whose entire knowledge of women, romance and sexuality comes from reading "Penthouse Letters"? ("Dear Penthouse, I cannot believe it happened to me, but there I was on a houseboat with this hot TV babe and a condom jar....")

It's also difficult to get past the obvious infantile misogyny of the whole production; there's a line in This Is Spinal Tap that comes to mind, Marti DiBergi is asking the band about their bad press and quotes a review that describes the band as "wallowing in their own retarded sexuality." First James O'Keefe dresses as a "pimp" and has a female colleague dress as a "hooker," and their getups (which they apparently didn't actually wear for their actual interviews with ACORN reps, but that's not even the point I'm getting at), their getups are entirely derived from blaxploitation depictions of pimps and hookers, which they say is part of the joke but really looks sort of like PoMo minstrelsy when you step back from it. Then O'Keefe breaks into a congresswoman's office, which could just be a fifty-fifty chance their victim would have a uterus, so let it pass. But then there's this, where, basically, O'Keefe's thing is to sexually harass a female reporter; one wonders if this whole "seduction" setup, with it's dildos, condom jar, porn, fuzzy handcuffs, "posters and paintings of naked women," etc. would have been suggested were the target a dude.

It doesn't look like I'm the only person who noticed this; while fact-checking, I hit a HuffPo link to a blog post by Alex Leo: "James O'Keefe, the 'CNN Caper' & Men Who Hate Women". Leo writes:

...this plan is so obviously the work of people threatened by women with power, by women they can't control, by women with opposing views, by women who are not submissive to them. It is the perfect example of how people with impressive resumes are discounted because of their looks (if they also happen to have breasts). The document encourages people to "make sure to emphasize Abbie's name and overall status to help burden her career with this video, incident and her bad judgment in pursuing you so aggressively." They weren't only trying to embarrass her, they were trying to destroy her. Why? Because she's educated? Has a voice? Dares to ask questions?

Indeed. Or it may be simpler than that: perhaps the real issue is that James O'Keefe and some of his cohorts are generally incapable of seeing a woman in anything other than classic Madonna-whore terms.

Consider: in the "punk CNN" plan, there's no "joke" even to be filmed if the subject, Ms. Boudreau, reacts by telling O'Keefe to go fuck himself and walks right out the door, or if she resorts straightaway to the can of mace on her keychain. If O'Keefe reaches out to embrace Boudreau and she punches him in his junk and calls the police, who, precisely, has been "punked"? The only way the game works to compromise Boudreau at all is if she goes for the bait, i.e. she is so totally into O'Keefe, man, oh yeah, she totally wants it, uh-huh. If she responds in anything like a professional or self-protective manner, the whole gig's off, but if she's hot for it....

In short, the whole setup for the "joke," such as it is, presumes that Abbie Boudreau is no Madonna.

It is difficult for me to articulate just how offensive the preening little jackanape and his friends are when you look at it that way. He is a sexist little prick, conceited and stupid, who fancies himself an activist because he's learned to punch the record button on a digital camera in much the same way an orangutan who has been taught to ride the bicycle for the circus might fancy himself a human.

He can go straight to Hell.


"Short And Sweet"

>> Wednesday, September 29, 2010

I'm not sure what it is--maybe it's the cooler weather, the shorter days, but I've found myself in the mood for David Gilmour's eponymous first solo album (1978) quite a lot the past couple of days.

Maybe that it's a melancholy record without being a depressing one, and I find myself in a melancholy (but not depressed) mood of late for some reason. It's a soulful record. Have I been feeling soulful? I'm not sure. Probably not.

Whatever. Anyway, here's Gilmour and Roy Harper performing the Gilmour/Harper composed "Short And Sweet" in 1984; Gilmour's original version is a bit more laid back, but this one's still a nice take on it:


Writing is hard

>> Tuesday, September 28, 2010

This really happens. All of it. All the time.

Does it even need to be said that her revision's still better than The Phantom Menace?


Word peeve of the day

I try to be really cool about word use and not too anal about it. Which is why, for instance, I usually don't leave comments correcting spelling or grammar unless the error is really funny or embarrassing. (And I'm sure someone can find an occasion where I was a hypocrite and violated this informal rule, but spare me, 'kay?)

But this one really, really irritates the piss out of me. I'm not going to single out the blog where it happened today, but I am going to point it out here because, you know, it irritates me, is why.


1. the period during which a sovereign occupies the throne.
2. royal rule or authority; sovereignty.
3. dominating power or influence: the reign of law.

–verb (used without object)
4. to possess or exercise sovereign power or authority.
5. to hold the position and name of sovereign without exercising the ruling power.
6. to have control, rule, or influence of any kind.
7. to predominate; be prevalent.


1. Often, reins. a leather strap, fastened to each end of the bit of a bridle, by which the rider or driver controls a horse or other animal by pulling so as to exert pressure on the bit.
2. any of certain other straps or thongs forming part of a harness, as a checkrein.
3. any means of curbing, controlling, or directing; check; restraint.
4. reins, the controlling or directing power: the reins of government.

–verb (used with object)
5. to check or guide (a horse or other animal) by exerting pressure on a bridle bit by means of the reins.
6. to curb; restrain; control.

–verb (used without object)
7. to obey the reins: a horse that reins well.
8. to rein a horse or other animal.

9. draw rein, to curtail one's speed or progress; halt: The rider saw the snake and drew rein sharply.
10. give rein to, to give complete freedom to; indulge freely: to give rein to one's imagination. Also, give free rein to, give full rein to.

What annoys me is that the common substitution error these homonyms provoke only goes one way, and it's always regarding the idiomatic usages you see in the last part of the latter definition. Nobody "reigns in spending," it makes no sense: you "rein in spending," as in, you metaphorically tighten the reins of the horse that is spending so that it slows down. On a similar but different note, you could, I suppose, "give your imagination free reign," except that phrase doesn't mean what the user thinks it does; if you give your imagination free reign you are letting it rule you (I guess--actually, I'm not sure this usage makes that much sense, either), while giving it free rein means you are letting it run where it will.

To bring the idiomatic back to the literal, original usage: you might tighten or loosen the reins of your horse, but you wouldn't give your horse reign unless maybe you're the Emperor Caligula, and the whole point of that apocryphal story was that Caligula was batshit insane.

There is, actually, a somewhat useful observation in this beyond me just bitching about something trivial: the reason the substitution only goes one way and the reason it bothers me so damn much is because it's lazy writing. I don't mean the fact that the phrase is a cliché, though that might be a reason to avoid it, but rather the fact that the person who is misusing it isn't really choosing his words carefully or thinking about how he's saying something. The entire piece may in fact be thoughtful and smart--the piece that annoyed me today was exactly that--but if the writer was actually thinking about the image he was calling on, it would be obvious to him that he meant reins are being pulled or relaxed and that reigns would never or almost never make sense in the context he's using it in.

Now, I'll admit (1) that I sometimes do this, my fingers merrily typing ahead of my brain (I may have done it in this post; I hope not) and (2) that blogging is generally more spontaneous and less-conducive to the kind of proof-reading and editing that ought to catch blatant laziness like reigns-for-reins. But neither excuses anything, and if you catch me doing something similar, it's not me at my best.

So try not to make this mistake, folks. At the risk of sounding like even more of a pedantic asshead than usual, remember: kings reign, riders rein. Thanks.


"If you had had more time..."

>> Monday, September 27, 2010

I don't know if it makes sense to say that a band that had as many hits and was as ubiquitous on the radio in the '70s as Supertramp was can be underrated. But it sort of feels like they get dismissed, notwithstanding the odd old hit popping up in the occasional movie soundtrack or whatever; it sort of seems they get written off somehow as a cheesy '70s pop band when what they were doing was writing great pop earworms that had stiletto lyrics when you actually listened to what they were saying. The Supertramp worldview was angsty and sarcastic, vicious and snarky, misanthropic in the way only a jaded, disillusioned romantic whose heart has been smashed into the mud with a large hammer can be misanthropic.

And the clarinet solos were boss.

In the early '80s, Supertramp's brain trust, Roger Hodgson and Rick Davies apparently had some kind of hideous falling-out. Hodgson went out on a unremarkable solo career and Davies plodded along with the remaining bandmates under the Supertramp moniker but it wasn't the same and it's easy to forget--perhaps preferable to forget--that the band didn't actually, technically break up. 1982's ...Famous Last Words... wasn't Supertramp's last album, but it might as well have been.

Anyway, it makes it hard to find a Supertramp video or live performance to share. What you're getting today is Hodgson solo, performing "Take The Long Way Home." If you don't own Breakfast In America already, you ought to: the first-side triptych consisting of "The Logical Song", "Goodbye Stranger" and "Breakfast In America" is one of those perfect-pop sequences that only happen sometimes even on great records, and then there's "Long Way Home" kicking off the second side.

Oh, and one more thing: if your CD collection is missing Breakfast and you're looking to rectify the deficit, you might want to know that the band's 1974 release, Crime Of The Century, is a better album. Hey, getting 'em both puts you a little closer to that Free Super Saver shipping from Amazon, no? Just pointing that out.


Oh, and speaking of Federal assistance programs...

>> Sunday, September 26, 2010

If you were following the comments thread on this week's piece on the Republican travel brochure, you may recall there was some discussion of a mystery pie chart. Phiala tracked down a likely source: it's probably an incompetently-reproduced version of a chart showing how Federal assistance programs are distributed by agency.

Anyway, the Republican Representatives seem to be implying or suggesting that there are too many Federal assistance programs out there, and that one of the things they'll be doing to fix the country is to get rid of Federal assistance programs--after all, is it fair for Americans in one corner of the country to suffer the indignity of tax hikes just to benefit another region? And aren't state and local governments far better equipped to deal with regional and local issues? For that matter, if there's a problem, shouldn't we leave it to private enterprise to come up with a market solution--if there's a demand for a fix, someone will invent a solution they can sell... unless, that is, the Federal government intervenes, holding back the Invisible Hand.

Well, it would seem at least eight Republicans in Congress did not get the glossy brochure. As Steve Benen observes in The Washington Monthly, eight Republican Representatives joined seven Democrats to request Federal assistance in requesting that the USDA and EPA take action against a stinkbug infestation plaguing the mid-Atlantic states. Benen summarizes the problem:

The issue is the spread of the brown marmorated stink bug through the mid-Atlantic states. They're harmless to people--the don't bite, sting, or carry diseases--but for the first time on the continent, they're doing significant damage to crops, ornamental shrubs, and trees. And as homeowners are discovering, as the bugs begin moving inside as temperatures drop, "when squashed or irritated, the bugs release the distinctive smell of sweaty feet."

The insects reached the U.S. in Allentown, Pa., in 2001, apparently as stowaways in a shipping container from Asia. Now they're spreading, they have no known natural predators, and there's "no easy way to kill lots of the bugs at once." Complicating matters, "the invasion is only going to get worse."

One can understand Democrats signing Representative Roscoe Bartlett's (R-MD6) letter--as we know, the Democrats would love nothing more than to give encroaching socialism another toehold on American soil by coming up with a Big Government solution to yet another alleged environmental problem. But what in the world are Representative Bartlett and his seven colleagues thinking? Clearly, they've been corrupted by power: Representative Bartlett has served his state in Congress since 1993, for instance, and is perhaps unaware that Mama Grizzlies want their country back and to restore the Constitution, etc., etc. (And are stinkbugs mentioned in the Constitution? I think not! Ergo, the power to control stinkbug infestations must fall under the Tenth Amendment and be reserved to the states, or the people.)

One can only hope the Tea Party and Republican leadership will put Representative Bartlett and his errant colleagues in their place.

(H/t to Bob Cesca for retweeting Steve Benen!
And people ask what Twitter's good for!)


"And we all shine on..."

In a couple of weeks--this coming October 9th--John Lennon would have been seventy if he were still with us. But that's not really why I'm posting this, although Andrew Loog Oldham brought it up on his radio show last week and that may have put it into my head; no, I'm really just posting it because I think it's been a little while since I've posted anything this classic, and sometimes if you go a little while without listening to something you--well, it's not that you forget why it's classic, but you sort of forget why it's classic, if you know what I mean.


Anyway, it's John, bringing the "Instant Karma." Shine on.


An open letter to Representative Michele Bachmann

>> Saturday, September 25, 2010

From: Michele Bachmann
Date: September 16, 2010 3:38:57 PM CDT
Subject: Bill Clinton's personal attack

Dear Fellow Conservative,

Bill Clinton is on the attack.

This week, while hosting a fundraiser for my opponent Tarryl Clark, Bill Clinton attacked me personally. Not only did he refer to me as "stupid," but he accused me of "putting ideology over evidence."

I need your help to defend myself right away. This is yet another example of how the liberal Democrat establishment has put a target on my back for defeat. They'll say and do anything. The comments from Bill Clinton have hit a new low and I must have the resources to defend myself and fight back.

Will you follow this link to make an emergency contribution of $25 or more to help me fight back against Bill Clinton's attacks?

I am proud of my record and I refuse to be bullied into silence by Bill Clinton. Liberals across the country believe if they defeat me in November, the Tea Party movement will be eliminated. So every big name liberal is coming out of the woodwork to raise money for my opponent. Nancy Pelosi, Howard Dean, Barack Obama, Walter Mondale, and now Bill Clinton -- have all helped my opponent build up a multi-million dollar war chest to attack me and our values. I won't back down and today, I need to know you stand with me.

Will you help me send a message to Bill Clinton that I am not going anywhere? Will you help me deliver this message loud and clear by making a contribution of $25, $50, $100, $250 or any amount up to the $2,400 limit?

Every day, we get word of a new leftist organization dumping money into my race. We just got word this morning that Big Labor is contacting voters in my district with misleading statements attacking me. They join the extreme pro-abortion group EMILY's List, the radical environmental lobby and hosts of others who have jumped on the "attack Michele bandwagon." Their only aim is to defeat me and squash the growing Tea Party movement.

Clinton, Pelosi, Obama and the rest of the liberal establishment are in panic mode as Tea Party candidates across the country rise up against their socialist government. We must continue to fight! Please make an immediate contribution to show these liberals we are stronger than they are and that we will not be silenced!

Your encouragement and prayers mean so much to me and I hope I can continue counting on your support.


Michele Bachmann

P.S. While hosting a fundraiser for my opponent, Bill Clinton took the opportunity to attack me personally by calling me and other Tea Party activists "stupid." The liberal left loves Bill Clinton and I have no doubt the fundraiser raised a pretty penny for my opponent, so I need your immediate help to fight back against Bill Clinton's attacks and the influx of cash into my opponent's war chest. Will you help me defend myself with an immediate contribution of $25, $50, $100, $250 or more? Please don't sit on the sidelines and allow Clinton's attacks to go unanswered!

Paid for by Bachmann for Congress
P.O. Box 25950 | Woodbury, MN 55125
P.O. Box 25574
Alexandria, VA 22313

Dear Representative Bachmann,

I am surprised to agree with you when you suggest it was improper and gratuitous for former President Clinton to make various accusations above and beyond calling you "stupid." Personally, I would have left it at that at this point, or perhaps merely added a qualifier such as "fucking stupid" or maybe even "really fucking stupid." For Mr. Clinton to suggest that you place "ideology over evidence" is truly unfair, insofar as "ideology" implies that you have some sort of more-or-less coherent worldview or ethos that guides you, as opposed to possessing a grab-bag of soundbites and cynical positions taken to appeal to some uneducated jackass somewhere. At this point, I'm very skeptical towards the notion that you are principled enough to have an ideology, and Mr. Clinton was wrong to imply that you are.

I doubt, however, that Mr. Clinton's comments truly constitute a "new low." I'm sorry to have to point this out, but I'm pretty sure lots of other people have said meaner things about you, and in public, too. There are whole websites, in fact, dedicated to criticizing you, such as Michele Bachmann Said What?! and The Dump Bachmann Blog (they appear to be against your re-election). Here's a webpage that points out you bear a striking resemblance to Bat Boy, the little fellow who (if you don't know) is the iconic mascot of the Weekly World News, and I have to admit the resemblance is... uncanny. Have you ever been to West Virginia? But then, I think you know this, since you have cannily used claims you're being persecuted as campaign fodder in e-mails like this one; poor you, if people stopped saying mean things about you, you might have to come up with a campaign platform and pay for more advertising and everything.

(To that extent, then, you may consider this my campaign contribution, Representative.)

I have some ideas as to how I ended up on your spam list; suffice it to say, I'm not a "fellow conservative" and I think somebody thought he was being funny. And he was being funny, though (if I'm right) not in the way I suspect he thought he was being funny: I think the idea was that your spam mail would annoy me or make me gripe, when I've largely found it funny and sort of a window onto the murky waters of the other side. I get your spam in my junk box, and I get a nice laugh out of it, along with a sense of what you say to your supporters when you're not in front of a camera--the kinds of claims you make to raise funds--and now I'm getting a blog post out of it, another edition in a series largely devoted to silly e-mails from crooked people who are trying to trick others into sending them money.

I think it's adorable how you and those like you respond to criticism, valid or not, by saying people are trying to bully you into silence (I almost said "your ilk" but just the other day Roger Ebert tweeted that this would expose me as a conservative, so I guess I shouldn't). I guess I could accuse you of hypocrisy, since you say mean things about opponents all the time. But why would I bother? I mean, you have every right to be critical of others, and even if some of the critical things you say are outright lies, well... well that's a little more complicated, what with ethics and defamation law and all that jazz, but within that framework, it's a free country and all that. And that's the real point, actually: I don't much care if you're a lying hypocrite, Representative Bachmann, because, honestly, you've taught me to expect that of you; I just wanted to say Mr. Clinton has a right to say you're stupid. And I think he could've said worse things about you without crossing any lines.

I also kind of wanted to say that you're pretty far off base about a lot of what you say liberals want. I realize I have no chance of convincing you otherwise, but then again I don't know if you even believe a quarter of what you put out under your name. I'm not sure you do. But, anyway, someone might be surfing Google and they might see this, and maybe that person is better than you are.

First, let me say that I don't think any liberal thinks defeating you (or anyone else) will make the Tea Parties go away. Gosh, don't we wish! But no, I'm afraid they're not going anywhere, and it certainly worries me.

Second, defeating you isn't our "only aim." When you say that, you're just being narcissistic and paranoid. We'd like to defeat everybody like you and try to make America a better, more thoughtful, kinder, more prosperous place. We'd like to make sure everyone can get a living wage and has enough to eat and a roof over their heads and medical care and an education, etc., and you just happen to be in the way. Sorry. It really isn't anything personal.

Third, y'know, I can't really say the liberal left (and is that redundant?) "loves Bill Clinton." Some of us do, I know, but a lot of us thought he was a bit of a disappointment. Let me put it to you this way: if the liberal left loved Bill Clinton, then in 2000, Al Gore would have run his campaign on "BILL'S MY MAN!" and not on "I hardly know the guy, we just worked together for a few years and he did his thing and I did mine," and then all of us who voted for Ralph Nader or stayed home or whatever would have gone and voted for Gore and things in close states like Florida probably would have turned out a lot differently. But a lot of us thought Clinton was sleazy and some of us thought he fucked up healthcare and gay rights and was too cozy with corporate donors and a little too-willing to start shooting up the Middle East (and how ironic is that in retrospect, eh?) and so we all threw our votes away in one way or another. And here's the really funny part, which is that most of Clinton's rehabilitation with the left is really the result of your guy, W. Bush, because in retrospect all the pragmatism and centrism looks at least reasonable if not actually progressive when compared to the guy who drove the country into the ditch after he took the wheel from ol' Bill: the rocket strikes seem preferable to invading Iraq, the lying about sex seems tame compared to lying about WMDs, at least the cushy treatment of corporate donors wasn't as bad as having all these conflict-of-interest-ey deals with thugs like Haliburton, etc., and above-all at least the economy was doing well enough for everyone on the left to have the luxury of grappling with moral and ethical quandaries. It's kind of like what happened to Nixon after Ford-Carter-Reagan: hey, maybe Nixon was evil, but at least the sweaty little fucker mostly had his shit together.

So keep sending me the e-mails. It costs me as much to skim them whenever I feel like bothering as it does for you to send them, and after this blog post, I've now gotten more out of them than you ever will.


Spider! She is our heroine!*

>> Friday, September 24, 2010

I decided I needed to change the banner (I used to change it every month, but that notion seems to have passed on), so I finally worked up the nerve late this evening to look through some of the pics I took last Sunday at the USNWC trails, and some of them turned out far better than I expected or deserved (the last time I took the camera out, several months ago, my wrist was still so gimpy I couldn't shoot for shit and I wasn't happy with what I was getting settings-wise with the D300S).

The young lady pictured above, presumably out on the prowl for some nice, tasty bug (or perhaps merely fleeing from one shelter to another, though she certainly acted like a huntress), came out rather nicely, I think. Most of the credit, I fear, is due the camera, but hey--on the plus side, my wrist obviously wasn't shaking as badly!

(Which, as an aside, was also distressing last time I was out, since the wreck had been a year ago at that point, my surgeries over-and-done-with, my physical therapy finished--and as soon as I have a camera in my hand, my wrist is spazzing like a white boy on a Brooklyn dancefloor ca. 1978.)

As for the new banner, I know it's sort of, eh, girly, but there was something about the rich earth tones in the color scheme, so, y'know, it is what it is.

*The title, of course, is a reference to a TMBG earworm--"Spider," natch--that goes, "Spider! He is our hero!" But surely a couple of geeks like the Johns know that male spiders are generally just dainty spermbags on tiny legs while the spider matrons are the builders and hunters of Arachnidae, as befits their Greek namesake, that archetypical mistress of the loom. I suppose we should give them poetic license, though, since "Spider! She is our heroine" has too many syllables and the meter's all wrong, and "Spider! He is her meal!" is just the wrong sort of vibe for a goofy little song, somehow.

Regardless, the lady I caught in the pic is a beaut, no?


More mush from the wimps...

Well, what else can you call it? I realize the tradition is to say Democrats are effete pansies, but yesterday's Republican "Pledge To America" is, as Alex Pareene writes at Salon, "sad"; it's a bunch of impotent sloganeering and emasculated childish rage, but with pictures.

You can read it here (PDF link) if you'd really like to. Might be worth a larf or making googly eyes at, but don't worry about getting angry and angsty over it because it's not serious enough to merit it. It is, in fact, a tourist brochure for flavor-of-the-moment Republicanism: lots of bright color pics and contentless graphs, a miscellany of blurbs and pretty much everything you already knew about when you pulled into the rest stop to take a leak plus some stuff you wouldn't have cared about if you'd known; you'll put it back in the rack between the disposable state highway maps and the pamphlet with a kayak-er getting soaked on the front and wonder if the Slim-Jims are worth seventy-five cents and if you get the Mountain Dew will the much-needed caffeine boost be worth having to pull over again to take another leak a hundred-and-fifty miles down the road? And this is the part where you've already forgotten about the, what was it, Republican Bat Caves Spelunking Whatever?

If you think I'm engaging in hyperbole, it's less than you think and you can demonstrate this by way of math: you may have heard news reports like this one describing the "Pledge To America" as a twenty-one page document, but if you clicked on the previous link to the official PDF (or picked it up off the brochures rack) you may have noticed the real deal is slightly heftier and shows a 48-page page count; counting four pages as cover (front cover, front cover inside, back cover inside, back cover), what we end up with is a 44-page handout. So what gives? Did the Republicans add lots and lots of substantive detail to the 21-page draft that popped up before the official rollout? Nah. What happened is that more than half the final product is pictures--cowboys, the Statute Of Liberty, Main Streets USA, that kind of crap--plus the Republicans had the typesetters use a really big font, wide gutters and extra-wide margins. Kind of like when you were a kid and you tried to turn your three pages of all-you-knew-about-Beowulf into a ten-page magnum opus by WRITING REALLY BIG IN THE CENTER OF THE PAGE. Except maybe the Republicans have a partial excuse insofar as they're assuming old white people get tired of wearing their bifocals all the time, I dunno.

I didn't see any photo credits, so I don't know if the authors used a whole bunch of public domain clipart or if these are photos donated by various campaigns. So many Republican candidates this year like dressing up like cowboys (hey, it worked for George W. Bush!) that it's hard to tell whether the lassoing cowboy in the sunset is from a cigarette ad or a still from some upstate New York Congressional candidate's TV promo. One suspects, however, that photos like the one of Mt. Rushmore came from somewhere, and one worries the Republicans might be, ahem, thieves, but honestly, who knows? It comes to mind partly because I consider myself a creator (writer, blogger, photographer, y'know?) and partly because a friend's significant other was recently having problems with a fanzine misappropriating his work, and also because it's always funny when a group of people who walk around going, "Ronkronkronk--private property--ronkronkronk--ownership--ronkronkronk--business" end up "borrowing" intellectual property without permission or credit, like a pop song appropriated for a campaign theme, say, or a bunch of images probably downloaded by an intern from the Internet.

I write this knowing full well that some people probably wouldn't want credit for their contributions to the padding. I love the pie chart on page 23 (page 25 by way of the PDF page counter; it actually appears in the draft version, too, on page 12) labeled "Federal Assistance Programs." Odin knows what this is supposed to be--no, actually he doesn't, and Odin All-Father knows ev-er-y-thing, that's what his missing eye and raven are all about. He doesn't know for the same reason you and I don't and can't, which is that this chart doesn't have anything to explain what the various numbers mean--millions of somethings, billions of somethings, money, hours, percentages (not unless you can have 413% of something), growth, shrinkage, Frequent-Flier-Miles earned, what?. And look at what's listed: I get that certain conservatives consider the Department Of Education and the Department Of Health And Human Services and the Department Of Housing And Urban Development to be "assistance programs," but the Department Of Defense? Homeland Security? Really? And I would've thought those small-business-pimping politicos would be alright with the assistance programs offered through the Department Of Commerce, but okay, so Commerce is on the chart so it must be evil, right? Just like the Department Of Veteran's Affairs?

This may seem like nitpicking, like I'm not critiquing the ideas the Republicans are presenting; which, you know, there actually aren't any, or at least aren't any you haven't heard before, but that's not really the issue either. The reason I'm discussing their pie charts and illustrations is that it's a central part of the Republicans' flim-flammery. Why is that pie chart there on page 23/25/12 when it doesn't show anything at all and conveys absolutely no information whatsoever? And the answer is so they can have a chart. Because charts are scientific and smart and stuff: economists and scientists use charts, and Al Gore had a bunch of them and lots of people think he's smart for a politician, and a lot of those magazines that have long words in them will break things up with a chart. "Trust us, we have charts and everything." And the saddest part is that there's more than a few poor idiots out there amidst the huddled masses who will look at that chart, and instead of saying, "Hold on--what the fuck?" they're going to say, "Boy, look at how government wastes so much on Health And Human Service, 413, that's a lot, and Department Of Defense only gets 64."

Except this example, sadly, gives our hypothetical moron too much credit. Because, you see, another problem with this chart as an infographic, above and beyond (below and beneath?) the fact it doesn't show anything, is that it uses repeated or similar colors to not show it, and to figure out that the Department Of Defense's teal color is not the Department Of Justice's teal, you have to assume (a) that the government agencies are presented in the list in clockwise order, starting with the blue Department Of Health And Human Services whose wedge begins at "12:00" and (b) that the Department Of Defense is not one of the five mystery wedges (i.e. the teal "16"), since the chart lists fifteen agencies but actually shows twenty slices of pie.

I mean, it's completely possible the Department Of Defense is 16, which is pretty embarrassing for a major governmental agency during wartime, etc. When's the last time you can remember an important, cabinet level Federal agency being a 16 while other agencies are 184 or even 12? And why, why in the name of all that is holy, are good, decent Americans putting up with a 132, 132, for crying out loud?

Seriously, though, the incompetence and dishonesty is staggering, and that's the point here. It's bullshit pure and simple. My guess is that they grabbed the chart from some government or think-take pub and didn't screengrab a chunk on an opposite page that explained the five mystery wedges, perhaps along with an explanation of what the assortment of numbers means. They grabbed this chart because they wanted a chart, but they do not actually care enough to worry about trivialities like content or accuracy, and they assume their audience is too stupid to notice or care that they don't care.

I imagine the flimflam here is supposed to disguise the paucity of content in the actual text in the same way a stage magician burns a bit of flash paper to keep the audience from noticing he just stuck the Jack Of Diamonds into his pocket. In this case it might have been a better trick if the "Pledge" was printed on flash paper and actually spontaneously combusted before you could notice how fucked-up their illustrations are, but whatever.

Here's a summary of the whole "Pledge": you've heard and seen Republican House and Senate candidates campaigning in various primaries and state races, right? And you've heard them say they want to renew the Bush-era tax cuts, repeal healthcare reform, and they're against abortions and love our troops and we need tighter border security and, oooooo! that Obama pisses them off and they hate him, etc., ad nauseum, and so forth, blah, blah, blah? Well, that. That's the whole pledge. All twenty-one or forty-four pages of it, just that, except the "long" version has more pictures and doesn't say anything about just having to take the President's word for it that he was born in America and is a Christian and that he never went on a date on a Satanic altar--wait, strike that last part, that was someone else. The "Pledge" isn't a contract and it isn't a plan, it's a bunch of standard-issue campaign fare with the usual head-scratchers and contradictions. Lower the deficit by raising less money, cut Federal programs unless they're really popular, expand personal liberty unless genitalia are involved somehow, America's a land of opportunity except for immigrants, we're going to make it an official requirement that we read legislation before we vote on it because apparently we're not already doing that, and (oh yeah!) I guess we also ought to start following the Constitution (because apparently we were doing that wrong, too, even before we became the minority party). Do not try to cut any of it with a knife or to eat it with a fork.

May the gods have mercy on us. These liars and fools could very well be elected to Congress in large numbers. I'm not sure if I should be worried that they'll then try to make an agenda of trying to pass their Pledge into law or worried that it doesn't even make for much of an agenda. They'll compare themselves to Reagan, but Reagan was (at least) an idiot with an ideology, whereas these people compose a gibbering horde armed with slogans and borrowed pictures. Should I despair?


Quote of the day

>> Thursday, September 23, 2010

In a comments thread over at Cesca's blog, "goatboyslim" has finally found the outer limit of having an elected leadership that demographically represents the American public manifesting in the teabagger movement:

First, women demanded direct representation in Congress. Then it was African Americans. Then Hispanics. Now what we're seeing are the Stupid Americans demanding their own representatives in Congress. Does it make me a bigot if I say no, Stupids, you may not have your own Senator, or Representative? Because I don't feel bigoted.

Me either, "goatboyslim." Me either.


"I was afraid I'd eat your brains..."

Ounce for ounce, The National's "Conversation 16" (from the truly perfect High Violet) may be the strangest love song ever written. I mean, there's an abundance of strange or disturbing love songs out there--Nick Cave's "Sad Waters" comes to mind, for instance--but "Conversation 16" is a song in which a lovely description of a fraying but still passionate relationship (though one that is, in some respects, tenderly banal--sick kids, obligatory dinners with friends) suddenly introduces cannibalism as a metaphor for self doubt--

I was afraid I'd eat your brains
I was afraid I'd eat your brains
'Cause I'm evil
'Cause I'm evil

And as goofy as that sounds--and here's the weirdest part--it really is an extraordinary, poignant song:

I was less than amazing
Do not know what all the troubles are for
Fall asleep in your branches
You're the only thing I ever want anymore

Some of the guys from the band were spending a lot of promotional time on SiriusXM a few months ago, when the record came out, and they were talking about how they had most of the song written but it really wasn't coming together until they sort of ad-libbed the brain-eating bit and then all of a sudden it was perfect, and I can see how it's so. That random B-movie horror element is so surreal and unexpected and sung so sweetly that it really does bring the whole song into a sharper focus.

We often think of horror as metaphor in terms of big, messy things--sex, war, disease. Vampirism as AIDS stand-in, zombie apocalypse as a representation of political witch-hunting, the teen-hunting serial killer on the loose as a symbol of adulthood. But there's not any real reason horror tropes can't be a proxy for much smaller, more personal, more intimate things. When Matt Berninger croons "I was afraid I'd eat your brains," I get it: he's afraid intimacy will bring destruction of what he loves, that he will use and destroy her--because, as he says, he's evil, and aren't we all?1

Speaking of brain-eating, the e-mail this week contained some promo stuff from Jaym Gates and Erika Holt, editors of the most-excellent anthology Rigor Amortis, available from fine booksellers, etc. on October 1st of this year. Here's a wallpaper based on the cover artwork by Robert Nixon (you can, of course, click on it to embiggify it):

I don't know if any of my colleagues featured any brain-eating in their stories, but fans of Like Water For Chocolate or Eat Drink Man Woman or, for that matter, 9½ Weeks may understand that food and sex are appropriately close matters (ordinarily at least--I can't say if that holds up when the walking dead are moaning and groaning in the vicinity). My contribution to Rigor Amortis, "Syd's Turn", doesn't feature any noshing on brains, though (bringing the circle back around) I imagine the couple in "Turn" has quite a bit in common with the couple in "Conversation 16" in many respects--that sense of angst and ennui, even if the couple in "Turn" doesn't have kids and the couple in "Conversation" hasn't turned to recreational necrophilia (well--the song doesn't mention it, so it might be more accurate to say it's left to the listener's imagination). Regardless, I hope a possible lack of cranial gastronomy isn't an obstacle to purchasing a copy of this fine, fine collection, which I'm privileged to be a part of.

1And is it possible or even likely that this basic fact--that we're all evil--is the reason objects of horror so frequently become heroes within the genre? At the risk of making what is by now a fairly trite observation, Dracula, Frankenstein, Freddie Kruger and the lot almost inevitably become the heroes of their stories not merely because bad is more interesting than good, or because death is such a compulsion (who hasn't found themselves staring with morbid fascination at a poisonous or dangerous animal from however safe a distance?), but because monsters act on familiar, repressed urges. Who hasn't wanted to slaughter a campground full of obnoxious popular kids or engage in similarly antisocial, id-driven behavior?

This may also be the reason H.P. Lovecraft's work has remained largely the domain of cultdom except insofar as it's been subverted and appropriated into more conventional modes--e.g. Derlethian pastiches and low-budget horror films in which HPL's plots or paraphernalia have been stuffed into standard good-versus-evil frameworks or the whole British thing of reading Lovecraft as pure Freudian allegory (i.e. all the squelching and tentacles and everything is just a bunch of sexually-repressed imagery, mostly homoerotic). Taken on its own terms as not particularly symbolic of anything, Lovecraft's nightmares are merely alien, incomprehensible and motivated by nothing remotely human, which makes them hard to get your brain around; what is supposed to make Cthulhu frightening, f'r'instance, isn't the idea that it wants to take over the world, but rather the idea that It just happens to be here and the world has the same significance to It that a bowl of bar-peanuts has, nommy if you notice it's sitting near your glass within reach, but not something you gave a whole lot of thought to.

The problem you run into at that point is that you're actually straying out of horror and into the realm of horror-themed science fiction (or perhaps theology), which is in fact exactly what Lovecraft was doing in his later works. I mean, from a certain point of view, Cthulhu (or Nyarlathotep or any of the rest) isn't so much scary as It is academically interesting, "Hrm, wow, I wonder what sort of exotic environment produced a mountain-sized gelatinous squid-headed polydimensional intelligence?" In a different era, HPL probably would've been happier writing for Star Trek than Kolchak.



>> Wednesday, September 22, 2010

I don't suppose that I ought to be too surprised when Newsweek, until recently owned by the once-great Washington Post, doesn't get it. Consider this recent comment about Delaware's most-lovable daughter, Christine O'Donnell:

One would think even Tea Partiers might be unnerved by witchcraft, but it's doubtful O'Donnell's support will erode because of things she said on TV during the 1990s. The more pressing concern for her campaign has to be how moderate voters will react to an emerging theme, that of apparent moral absolutism.

See, the problem for O'Donnell--well, the second problem now that she's been accused of misappropriating campaign funds for things like rent and bowling outings--isn't that there's an emerging theme "of apparent moral absolutism"; the emerging theme is that Ms. O'Donnell isn't very bright. Or, as Chez Pazienza put it so wonderfully this past Monday:

You gotta love the folks on the right.

They'll totally twist themselves into knots over Christine O'Donnell admitting that she was once an emo kid while ignoring the fact she's still a moron.

This is where we get back to all those Politically Incorrect clips that Bill Maher is threatening to show until/unless O'Donnell agrees to come back onto his show: when you watch the clips, you pretty quickly notice the problem with O'Donnell isn't so much with what she said almost twenty years ago as it is with the fact that she was so obviously willing to foolishly let herself get goaded into saying dumb things on national television for the amusement of people who were pretty obviously laughing at her and near her, not with her.

Of course that was back in the '90s and now it's 2010: very nearly two decades have passed, and the Arkleseizure itself knows most of us can probably think of something we said twenty years ago that was pretty mentally defective--hell, I'll bet I can come up with something yesterday. Except O'Donnell keeps saying stupid stuff now; it's bad enough that one suspects her dodging the press isn't because of all the nice picnicking weather.

But the real point of this wasn't merely to point out how dumb Christine O'Donnell sounds: she certainly speaks for herself on that score. No, the real point goes back to that Newsweek opinion piece: how credible can Newsweek expect to be when they have to dress up the situation and can't just state the obvious, if they're going to comment on it at all. I mean, just to start with, they don't actually have to comment in the first place, or they could merely point out that some polls indicate Delaware voters are concerned with the candidate's qualifications. Or they could gloss it up in a less-blatantly-inaccurate way by alluding to "perceived verbal missteps" or "some critics have found unintended humor in Ms. O'Donnell's statements." That kind of thing. They don't have to just come right out and say that O'Donnell sounds dumb whenever she says anything, though that would certainly be a justifiable statement.

I don't know why they don't just come out and say that. If they're concerned about an appearance of sexism arising from derogatory statements about a female candidate's intellectual gifts (or lack thereof), one might point out that Kentucky Republican Rand Paul and South Carolina Democrat Alvin Greene have both offered the press a copious amount of amusing fodder by way of various dim-minded pronouncements.

A couple of observations arise from this situation. One is that this is why mass-media punditry may ultimately fall prey, for better or worse, to amateur or unaffiliated bloggers who are less shy about calling shots as they see them. If Newsweek is going to beat around the bush while, oh, say Bob Cesca, f'r'instance is going to be blunt, why should I pay all that much attention to Newsweek (or whomever).

A second observation is that pieces like Newsweek's end up giving a candidate like O'Donnell more credit than she really deserves. After all, one certainly can articulate a well-thought-out, informed and intelligent morally absolute position on some issues, or there are some moral issues which are so self-evident, so fundamental, that it's hard to conceive of an articulate, intelligent contra position--we might agree to agree, for instance, that forcing another person to have sex against their will by threat or use of violence is morally reprehensible with no idea how one would go about arguing that clearly-defined acts of rape are sometimes justifiable or okay.1 One might also present a debatable absolutist point in a way that invites respect; i.e. one might be able to point out hypothetical or actual scenarios that make absolutism untenable while agreeing that the absolutist's principles are noble or their doctrines admirable in idealized situations or are simply well-argued. O'Donnell, of course, does none of this: she offers her absolutism in the context of espousing a view of human sexuality that is (at best) preciously naïve and dated and at worst foolish and possibly dangerous or in the baffling context of the story about the time she went on a date "on a satanic altar and I didn’t know it, and there was little blood there and stuff like that." (Given her choice of preposition, one can't help smirking about where the blood came from.)

Calling someone dumb or accusing them of sounding dumb (not necessarily the same thing, though it often is) isn't nice, and I certainly don't want to discourage civility in political discourse, etc. However, civility isn't a virtue when it leads to dishonesty. If we're constrained from calling O'Donnell's pronouncements stupid and ridiculous because we don't want to be mean to her or because we don't want to sound like we're making things overly personal or because we're afraid someone will think we're calling her dumb because she's a woman and not because she says dumb things quite a lot, what we're really doing is debasing our political culture. What we're doing is lowering the bar by treating the infantile as mature and the ignorant as knowledgeable; meanwhile, conversely, we're framing the wise, educated and informed as elitists whose opinions shouldn't be given any special weight just because they know what they're talking about and think before they speak.

1That there might be acts which are less-clearly-defined as rape or that invite debate over our definitions is immaterial to the actual point being made.


Not surprisingly, Bruce does a better Elvis impression...

>> Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Bruce Springsteen and R.E.M., "Man On The Moon":


An open letter to Diplomat Barrie Sesays (or somebody/something)

>> Monday, September 20, 2010

I am presently at JFK Airport in the United States of America.1‏

diplomat barrie sesays

From: diplomat barrie sesays (
Sent: Sun 9/19/10 2:21 PM

I am a Diplomat named Barrie Sesay mandated to deliver your inheritance to you in your country of residence.

The funds total US$7.5 Million and you were made the beneficiary of these funds by a benefactor whose details will be revealed to you after handing over the funds to you in accordance with the Agreement I signed with the benefactor when he enlisted my assistance in delivering the funds to you.

I am presently at JFK Airport in the United States of America and before I can deliver the funds to you, you have to reconfirm the following information so as to ensure that I am dealing with the right person.

1.Full Name:
2.Residential Address:
6.Direct Telephone Numbers:

After verification of the information with what I have on file,I shall contact you so that we can make arrangements on the exact time I will be bringing your package to your residential address.

Send the requested information so that we can proceed.

Barrie Sesay.

Dear Mr. Sessay,

I fear you may have traveled a great way for nothing, and may be stranded at JFK for quite some time. That's an airport, isn't it? Named after a president? Jackie Kennedy, I think, though that name suggests a woman to me and I'm not sure why. Is there a woman president now?

Your promised millions are, from my perspective, heaven-sent. If I have not completely escaped by virtue of the information you've asked me to gather, it is possible my captors, whoever or whatever they might be, would be amenable to bribery. Though I must also say the facility to which they have confined me is so nefarious--and obviously expensive--in its design that I don't know that a mere seven million will mean anything to them. Or, regardless of their wealth, money may simply not interest them; it is possible, for instance, that my captors are involved in some governmental or even--I hesitate to say it--otherworldly--capacity, and could not be bribed for any sum of money, being more interested in the results of the cruel existential experiment to which I and the others in The COMPLEX are subjected.

Explaining the nature of my captivity might also illustrate why you are likely to be at JFK for quite some time. (If--oh gods, I cannot believe I only thought of this just now--if you are you and not some vile figment invented by the captors as part of a new trial within The COMPLEX. Say it isn't so.)

First, you ask for my name, but I am not even sure who I am. I awaken every morning in my cell within The COMPLEX, on a flat, plain bunk barely large enough for my body, or on the floor--for what awakens me is the withdrawal of this bunk or platform into the wall of my featureless, stupefying prison. The only marking of identity I have at all is a card attached to my shirt featuring a photograph of myself--I assume it is myself, the face is vaguely familiar and I don't know why they would give me a card with someone else's face. (Unless... oh gods! Could that be another clue I've missed all this time?) Alongside the image is a sequence of numbers or block of numbers:


I do not know if these numbers are code, a serial number, some other type of identification, or if they represent some other clue or solution to one of the puzzles I will face in the trials presented by The COMPLEX.

But whatever they represent--if they are my name, I cannot remember my name. I sometimes have awakened from my morning (?) fall to the floor with the vestiges of a fading dream of a woman speaking on what I believe is a telephone, saying, "Well Robert says... oh, you've heard?" while she looks directly at me. Is she saying my name is Robert? Is Robert somebody we both know? And who is this woman? Is she my wife, my sister, my mother, an employee, a boss, a co-worker? For all I know she's a prostitute I've paid to answer the phone.

Robert. I feel like if I could remember who Robert is, or if Robert is me, I'd be some distance towards freedom.

I have the same issues with many of the other bits of data you ask for: age? Indeterminate. Occupation? Unknown, unless it's "rat in a maze" or "test subject" or "victim." Residential address? I reside in this COMPLEX, wherever or whatever it might be. Is it in the United States? I think so--I have a dim memory of crossing a street, men in a black car with generic faces surrounding me and I looked up at a digital clock on a... I think it was a bank, maybe? And the time was 12:16. And then the men stuff me in the car, and I hear a voice that says "The needle, Mr. Thirteen" and I feel a bee sting in my wrist--but there's no mark there now, I just looked. Did this happen? Or is it an implanted memory. Wait.

I do not know if this is a good thing or the worst thing to happen so far, Mr. Sesay. While I was composing that last portion of a reply, it occurred to me--

Well, perhaps I should give you more background. It might help me stumble onto something else.

I told you how I awaken in fear, stumble around until the door of my cell opens. When it does, I--we, for I am not always alone--begin to stumble through the corridors and shafts of The COMPLEX. It is a labyrinth in multiple dimensions, endless corridors and vertical shafts; some drop into seemingly bottomless pits or rise to gods-know-where. Occasionally there is a stair or an elevator, though I suggest (if you are ever here) you avoid those. And scattered through the corridors, of course, are the deathtraps, riddles and puzzles which we must overcome or get around or withdraw from if possible. I have seen... I think I have seen many people die, although to be honest, I only remember one this morning, a young woman whose affixed card only had this: 1-2-3-5-8-13-21-34-55 and a picture of a woman or man who I believe was Eleanor Roosevelt, though I'm not absolutely sure, and this is why I am not absolutely certain the face on my tag is mine. She was caught in the wires, and then--

I would rather not tell you about that, actually.

There are rooms throughout The COMPLEX, almost all of which contain some trap, though some are curiously featureless and others feature curiosities. (The penny-farthing bicycle on display in the cylindrical room that you had to climb a level to exit--why does that seem evocative, and of what?)

In the last room I was in, I found a computer terminal from which I was able to access your e-mail, sir. There were only two exits: the one through which I entered the room, which closed instantly behind me when I came into the room and the other closed and secured by a keypad.

Randomly typing numbers into a keypad is a good way to get killed (I think), so I sat down by the terminal while I tried to think of what the combination might be. And I was typing my reply to you when I remembered the dream or memory I have of being abducted--and this is the terrible thing. I got up, and went to the keypad, and I typed:


And the door slid open with a serpentlike hiss, like the devil himself drawing a breath. The air was cold--I was grateful it wasn't poisoned--and the long, black tunnel revealed was so freezing that I tore skin from my hand when I ill-advisedly touched the curving metal wall. There was nowhere else to go but forward, so I went.

I don't know what to make of this. Was "12:16" the combination to the door? If it was, was it chosen because that is when I was first abducted, or was the memory of an abduction planted in my mind? Or was any combination acceptable and I was overly-cautious to avoid touching the keypad? Or is there some other significance of 12:16, a date, an address, some sum or figure--and my mind has conjured the memory of the clock out of my unconscious, somewhere?

After proceeding along the rest of the tunnel, I came to another door which slid into the wall to reveal a room roughly ten feet by ten and forty feet high. In the center of the room was a small scaffold rising three storeys to a platform upon which I found a chair sitting in front of a computer terminal and--I believe I remember it being called an "e-mail client," is that right? Open to your e-mail and the draft of the first half of my response.

As soon as I sat down in the chair, I heard the door to the room thud closed and heard a shooshing sound--I looked up and saw that holes or drains had opened in the walls above me, unleashing a cascade of fluid and the room below me was filling with water, or I hope it's water. I looked around--there are no other exits, nor do the outlets filling the room appear to be wide enough for me to shoulder my way through, even if I could overcome the force of the water (?) entering the room or if I could even reach them. (I might be able to, if it's water, if I can float or swim on the rising liquid--but if I can't fit through them, what then?)

The room is filling rapidly. The water is ten feet deep, submerging the feet of the scaffold. It shows no sign of relenting.

I'm afraid I may not be able to collect your award after all.

There are several things that could happen. Sometimes, I think--I sort of remember this happening--I think sometimes I have died or almost died and awakened again in my cell, with no clear memory or only confused dreams of memories. Or, perhaps, a mode of escape will be presented, or perhaps there is some other puzzle here that I cannot see yet. Perhaps it will involve my ID card or whatever this sequence of numbers represents, although I have started to suspect they are merely decimal digits from the irrational number π.

In the meantime, until I die or think of something or am somehow rescued by my captors for whatever reason, I will finish this missive with a sincere thank you if you are a real correspondent and my curses if you are merely another trap or test or experiment of some sort. I don't suppose you could write back in the next few minutes and let me know, or if it would matter if you did, since you could lie, couldn't you? If you are going to respond, the churning liquid is about two-thirds of the way up the scaffolding now, so perhaps you should respond quickly. It isn't like you have anything else to do sitting at JFK and waiting, do you?

This terminal is different from the earlier one in that it has an icon for something called "Freecell" on it. Perhaps it is a way out, though I seem to dimly remember it's a game of some sort. I guess I shall find out. Goodbye, and good luck, whoever or whatever you are.



Kate and David, "Comfortably Numb"

>> Sunday, September 19, 2010

I'm afraid the sound quality isn't great and the video quality is terrible, but there's still something pretty goddamn special about Kate Bush joining David Gilmour onstage for "Comfortably Numb."

Circa 2002:

How's your Sunday going?


From the mind of M. Night Shyamalan...

>> Saturday, September 18, 2010

Okay. I'd actually see this one in the theatre....


And now a word from our sponsor...

>> Friday, September 17, 2010

Well, maybe not our actual sponsor, however it is time for some advertising. A book trailer is now online for Rigor Amortis, an upcoming anthology edited by Jaym Gates and Erika Holt which will feature the story "Syd's Turn" by yours truly.

Roll the clip--


The best song ever... at the moment...

Heard this on the radio the other day and was laughing my ass off. Which was a bit of a problem, as I was in the car with the top down and I ended up having to pull over and scrape my ass off the interstate in heavy traffic.

Fan video for The Mountain Goats' "No Children," from 2002's Tallahassee:


Completely random and apropos of nothing

>> Thursday, September 16, 2010

Having nothing in mind for a Thursday post, I went a free-wheelin' on the YouTubes and found my favorite crazy Irish goddess on Jools Holland way-back-when; she may be all kinds of nuts (I'm so sorry to say), but ye gods, she sings like the choir celestial.

Sweet, dear Sinéad, bringing down the "Fire On Babylon":


American idiot

>> Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The other day, when I did a "Batshit Crazy Quote Of The Day," I had a comment from Nathan, who wrote:

Ya'know...when I saw it was a quote of the day, I thought you'd be going after Newt for that whole "Obama thinks like a Kenyan Anti-Colonialist" bit. But Bolton's cool too! He does have the most terrifying moustache in public life!

To which I responded in part:

Newt's comment about alien Kenyan anti-colonialists wasn't batshit crazy in the sense that I'm pretty sure Newt doesn't believe it and was choosing his words carefully in order to throw crazy right-wingers a bone while coding it in such a way that it's not necessarily self-evidently racist, if you know what I mean. (I.e. it is self-evidently racist, but it's nuanced in a way that won't be apparent to Newt's intended audience and in a way that gives him and his pundits plausible deniability.

What I didn't realize when I replied to Nathan was that Gingrich didn't actually invent the whole insane "anti-colonialist Kenyan" thing. No, it seems he stole that riff from inesh D'Souza. Now, I stand by what I said about Newt, which is that the bastard is taking a play from the Lee Atwater Book Of Style, but I have to admit that Nathan's absolutely right about the Mad Kenyan theory as it pertains to D'Souza.

I also have to admit that when I went and read D'Souza's original article in Forbes, I found myself in a bit of a pickle. On the one hand, I'm short of topics this week and D'Souza's piece sort of begs for death. On the other hand, David Weigel makes a good point over at Slate when he writes:

...that's the answer to the "Why publish D'Souza?" question. It should be obvious by now that there is literally no conservative argument too "crazy" to be obsessed over by liberals. Every time a new one surfaces, they try to run it out of the mainstream by drawing extra attention to it. In 2008, Obama campaign's strategy was to refuse to comment on rumors or conspiracy talk—until the campaign launched a Web site in June devoted to debunking all of it. In 2010, the Democratic strategy is to freak out, all the time, about everything. It's not going so well, but that's largely because the economy isn't going so well, either., the D'Souza article is so profoundly retarded that one boggles a bit at where to begin responding, or whether to respond at all, or whether to call Human Services.

I realize that's a little bit ad hominem, though probably not quite as randomly ad hominem as:

But instead of readying us for the challenge, our President is trapped in his father's time machine. Incredibly, the U.S. is being ruled according to the dreams of a Luo tribesman of the 1950s. This philandering, inebriated African socialist, who raged against the world for denying him the realization of his anticolonial ambitions, is now setting the nation's agenda through the reincarnation of his dreams in his son. The son makes it happen, but he candidly admits he is only living out his father's dream. The invisible father provides the inspiration, and the son dutifully gets the job done. America today is governed by a ghost.

...and also, the D'Souza article is really, really bad.

I mean, if D'Souza's article was a movie, it would be Southland Tales, is how bad it is. As in, it's a pretentious, hacky piece of work created by somebody who suddenly discovered the material that might be covered in a freshman college course but thinks it's novel and unique because he also thinks he's precociously smarter than anybody else, so he piles it all together with an everything-and-the-kitchen-sink attitude and ends up creating something that makes the audience feel physically aware of the IQ points that are being leeched away witnessing it (although there are a few rabid, cultish fans who will evidently throw themselves under a train for the culprit responsible for either work). D'Souza's piece isn't merely idiotic, it's mind-numbingly idiotic, which is a bit strange since the brain itself purportedly lacks sensation altogether.

I mean, consider this section, f'r'instance:

I know a great deal about anticolonialism, because I am a native of Mumbai, India. I am part of the first Indian generation to be born after my country's independence from the British. Anticolonialism was the rallying cry of Third World politics for much of the second half of the 20th century. To most Americans, however, anticolonialism is an unfamiliar idea, so let me explain it.

Anticolonialism is the doctrine that rich countries of the West got rich by invading, occupying and looting poor countries of Asia, Africa and South America. As one of Obama's acknowledged intellectual influences, Frantz Fanon, wrote in The Wretched of the Earth, "The well-being and progress of Europe have been built up with the sweat and the dead bodies of Negroes, Arabs, Indians and the yellow races."

Anticolonialists hold that even when countries secure political independence they remain economically dependent on their former captors. This dependence is called neocolonialism, a term defined by the African statesman Kwame Nkrumah (1909--72) in his book Neocolonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism. Nkrumah, Ghana's first president, writes that poor countries may be nominally free, but they continue to be manipulated from abroad by powerful corporate and plutocratic elites. These forces of neocolonialism oppress not only Third World people but also citizens in their own countries. Obviously the solution is to resist and overthrow the oppressors. This was the anticolonial ideology of Barack Obama Sr. and many in his generation, including many of my own relatives in India.

What you have, there, is a journalist explaining to the presumably-reasonably-well-educated readers of Forbes an idea that is covered in, oh, I don't know, every single frosh History class in America, probably. Actually, I think colonialism and indigenous responses to colonialism might even be covered in high school. Granted, not every American gets a lot out of high school, or even finishes high school, much less goes to college--so maybe D'Souza is onto something when he says, "To most Americans, however, anticolonialism is an unfamiliar idea," maybe he's on to something; but how many of those under-educated folks are reading fucking Forbes magazine?

Mind you, this isn't even a political thing. I don't think you have to be sympathetic to anti-colonial sentiments to understand that that's a motive force in the world. It might be sufficient to be over the age of fifty, actually, since anti-colonialism was frequently a plot element in spy thrillers and television shows like Danger Man (a.k.a. Secret Agent) in the 1950s and 1960s. Hell, people: just a second ago I was talking about college and high school education, when it may be sufficient to have been old enough to pick up a motherfucking newspaper during the Vietnam War to have some ideas about what anti-colonialism is, etc., regardless of whether you felt the North Vietnamese were nationalists fighting for unification or bitter bastards exacting revenge on people who just wanted to promote and protect freedom and democracy throughout the world.

But let Uncle Dinesh explain it, because he grew up in Mumbai which is out near Hawai'i somewhere (I'm told).

Oh yes, by the by, that's part of D'Souza's argument: not just that he knows of whence he speaks because he grew up in Mumbai, but that he can really get into President Obama's shoes because Obama didn't spend much time in America:

The real problem with Obama is worse--much worse. But we have been blinded to his real agenda because, across the political spectrum, we all seek to fit him into some version of American history. In the process, we ignore Obama's own history. Here is a man who spent his formative years--the first 17 years of his life--off the American mainland, in Hawaii, Indonesia and Pakistan, with multiple subsequent journeys to Africa.

Jesus wept.

D'Souza writes like a man who is challenging the reader to decide whether he is being deliberately, infuriatingly dense by design or is merely the victim of a childhood spent tearing strips of leaded paint from the walls of his home and stuffing them into available orifices. For instance, I have a love/hate relationship with this paragraph:

More strange behavior: Obama's June 15, 2010 speech in response to the Gulf oil spill focused not on cleanup strategies but rather on the fact that Americans "consume more than 20% of the world's oil but have less than 2% of the world's resources." Obama railed on about "America's century-long addiction to fossil fuels." What does any of this have to do with the oil spill? Would the calamity have been less of a problem if America consumed a mere 10% of the world's resources?

...which I love for its sheer insane fatuity and hate for... well, much the same reason. Anyone of even moderate intelligence should understand the point the President was making: that reliance and overuse of oil increases the probability of disasters like the Gulf spill. Well, hell, why not let the President's actual words speak for themselves:

So one of the lessons we’ve learned from this spill is that we need better regulations, better safety standards, and better enforcement when it comes to offshore drilling. But a larger lesson is that no matter how much we improve our regulation of the industry, drilling for oil these days entails greater risk. After all, oil is a finite resource. We consume more than 20 percent of the world’s oil, but have less than 2 percent of the world’s oil reserves. And that’s part of the reason oil companies are drilling a mile beneath the surface of the ocean -- because we’re running out of places to drill on land and in shallow water.

For decades, we have known the days of cheap and easily accessible oil were numbered. For decades, we’ve talked and talked about the need to end America’s century-long addiction to fossil fuels. And for decades, we have failed to act with the sense of urgency that this challenge requires. Time and again, the path forward has been blocked -- not only by oil industry lobbyists, but also by a lack of political courage and candor.

The consequences of our inaction are now in plain sight. Countries like China are investing in clean energy jobs and industries that should be right here in America. Each day, we send nearly $1 billion of our wealth to foreign countries for their oil. And today, as we look to the Gulf, we see an entire way of life being threatened by a menacing cloud of black crude.

Keep in mind, you don't have to agree with the President to understand his point. I happen to agree with him, but, you know, you can still see what his point is even if you think oil spills are an acceptable risk or that we're nowhere near peak oil or that clean energy is overhyped or fiscally irresponsible or whatever, or perhaps you might not disagree with the President in principle but think that using the Gulf spill to contextualize energy problems is counterproductive or problematic, whatever; what's a bit harder to do unless you're a total idiot or merely pretending to be a total idiot is to say something like, "What does any of this have to do with the oil spill?"

The paint-eating seems like a more credible possibility when you read hallucinogenic passages from D'Souza like this gem:

The climax of Obama's narrative is when he goes to Kenya and weeps at his father's grave. It is riveting: "When my tears were finally spent," he writes, "I felt a calmness wash over me. I felt the circle finally close. I realized that who I was, what I cared about, was no longer just a matter of intellect or obligation, no longer a construct of words. I saw that my life in America--the black life, the white life, the sense of abandonment I'd felt as a boy, the frustration and hope I'd witnessed in Chicago--all of it was connected with this small piece of earth an ocean away, connected by more than the accident of a name or the color of my skin. The pain that I felt was my father's pain."

In an eerie conclusion, Obama writes that "I sat at my father's grave and spoke to him through Africa's red soil." In a sense, through the earth itself, he communes with his father and receives his father's spirit. Obama takes on his father's struggle, not by recovering his body but by embracing his cause. He decides that where Obama Sr. failed, he will succeed. Obama Sr.'s hatred of the colonial system becomes Obama Jr.'s hatred; his botched attempt to set the world right defines his son's objective. Through a kind of sacramental rite at the family tomb, the father's struggle becomes the son's birthright.

I have no idea how we go from Obama poetically describing mourning his old man at the graveside to some kind of resurrection of postwar, mid-20th-Century, Third-World nationalism. It possibly makes sense to D'Souza, unless he's channeling William Burroughs, in which case I take it all back and Dinesh D'Souza is the single greatest literary talent in the Western world since George Orwell left us.

But does it make sense to Newt Gingrich, or is he merely cynically using D'Souza as intellectual cover for various dog whistles? "Hey, I'm not the one calling the President a dusky, foreign, American-hating socialist, I'm just telling you what I read in Forbes." Or do we really even need to choose? A sensible hypothesis tending towards validation as a theory is that Newt Gingrich is an ignorant, cynical jackass who will say anything to add a few seconds to his fifteen minutes, so you know, maybe the correct answer is all-of-the-above.

Of course, perhaps I'm guilty, too, in a way. I mean, I've just sat and written a longish blog post about this idiocy in spite of the fact that it might have been better to just leave it alone and hope people forgot about it. Of course, I'm not looking to be famous, or at least not for this. I'd rather be famous for my zombie erotica, honestly. (You think I kid; well, necrophilia is a worthier subject than Dinesh D'Souza's cognitive processes, believe me.) But I needed to write about something, get a few words in, the fiction's stalled and I need another blog entry: so, here I am, exploiting the afflicted, giving attention to Dinesh D'Souza. In a way, it almost makes me feel the way I felt back in law school when a woman I had a major crush on took me to see Wesley Willis, a mentally-ill singer/spoken-word-artist fronting an eponymous band who stood onstage channeling his demons; on the one hand, it felt sleazy because it was hard to ignore the fact that this guy onstage probably needed to be hospitalized somewhere and here's a crowd getting off on his demented id and products of his battered psyche, on the other hand he was clearly enjoying himself and this was obviously a way to turn his health problems into a form of art that brought him relief he probably wouldn't have had getting doped to the gills in a state mental hospital distinguishable from 19th-Century bedlams chiefly by the existence of modern sanitation. Or, put another way, critiquing D'Souza's essay is a little like watching really skanky porn where you're not sure if the money some high-school dropout from a broken home is being paid for bukkake somehow absolves you of your culpability for not taking the tape out of the machine and burning it.

UPDATE, SEPTEMBER 16th, 2010: The Economist has a fucking brilliant takedown of D'Souza applying D'Souza's own "logic" to D'Souza. It's well-worth the look. (H/t to Vance Maverick over in the comments thread at Edge Of The American West!)

FURTHER UPDATE: Also worth a look: this piece at Easily Distracted in which D'Souza receives a mighty smiting. E.g.:

D’Souza’s understanding of anticolonialism in this article isn’t even wrong. It reminds me of that rare (around here, at any rate) annoying undergraduate writer who produces unanimous amused disdain among professors of any ideological or pedagogical slant, the kind of student who simultaneously:

a) very obviously did none of the assigned reading;
b) makes shit up based on a garbled mixture of stuff they overheard drunk adults at their parents’ parties say, stuff that their junior high school sports coach/history teacher/fringe political activist used to say, and stuff they kind of remember seeing on Wikipedia somewhere;
c) adopts a rhetorical pose that is 50% bombast and 50% faux-erudition.

It’s the kind of stuff that barely qualifies the writer to be a forum troll, let alone published in a mass-circulation magazine.

Again, worth the look!

ALSO: And yet another....

Considering how atrocious D'Souza’s argument is, why spend any time answering it? For one thing, when nonsense like this isn’t countered it tends to gain traction. Another reason is that conservative pundits and writers such as D'Souza have been indulging in so much evidence-free, ideological babbling for the last two years that many of them now seem convinced that this babbling is actually extremely serious, insightful commentary. If we are going to have anything remotely resembling an honest or informed debate over foreign policy or anything else during the remainder of Obama’s time in office, arguments like this one have to be knocked down.

I'M JUST LOVING ALL THE ONLINE COMMENTARY: Science fiction legend Frederik Pohl responds to Newt Gingrich's regurgitation of D'Souza's essay here, and it's worth reading because Pohl is just all kinds of awesome. Part of Pohl's blog post is a reminiscence--he has to admit Gingrich was kind of a personable guy when he met him, though Pohl loathes Gingrich's politics--but he also points out:

Newton Leroy Gingrich’s latest I’ll-say-anything-for-a-headline proclamation is really pretty weird. What he says is that in order to understand President Obama’s political activities you have to know that Obama is really acting according to Kenyan, not American, political practices.

Actually, I think that's pretty dumb. I’ve read a lot on the subject, and I've been there myself, but I couldn’t tell you how Kenyan political practices are different from those of any number of other little countries that are trying to figure out just how their new democracy thing should work, and I really don't think Gingrich could pass a test on it himself. I’m pretty sure that the real purpose of that press release was actually a somewhat slimy one. That is, his intention was to reinforce that preposterous Tea Party nonsensical claim that our president isn’t an American at all.

I'm reasonably sure D'Souza couldn't pass a test, either. Anyway, again: worth the look (plus you should be visiting Pohl's blog regularly anyway, so here's a reason to drop by if you aren't).


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