Friday, November 07, 2008

Slatted_Light at Dennis Cooper's blog had this comment today so detailed and so right-on that I'm saving it here:

I think you should have at least some cautious hope on the Prop 8 legal battle, dude. Like all LGBT rights issues, the deck is stacked against it but there is a clear shot here, even if it is a long shot. The real question is – as Heliotrope pointed out – whether it would be wiser to try this out before a future Obama Supreme Court later on rather than have the California Court overrule the amendment which could risk a legislative constitutional convention. A constitutional convention is actually also a very big long shot as well but of course the risks are high too. More likely the court will rule that Prop 8 was an amendment and not a revision because – as always with LGBT issues – the argument can be easily be mounted that the amendment has not involved “a broad attack on state court authority to exercise independent judgment in construing a wide spectrum of important rights under the state Constitution” – the current standard set for what constitutes a revision under Californian law. The amendment’s supposed ‘specificity’ saves it in that regard because, unlike the really excellent example Bernard gave yesterday of revoking Miranda rights, Prop 8 could be argued not to “necessarily or inevitably alter the basic governmental framework” of the Constitution – which was the reason an attempt to strike down a gay marriage ban as a constitutional revision in Alaska failed because the Court, citing California precedents, held that a proscription of LGBT marriage rights was discrete enough an issue not to upset the constitution’s fundaments. I think I’m still for a legal challenge though simply because I loathe the idea that elections can be used to strike down equal rights for minorities. The difference once again is the fact that the California Court already found the right to marriage to be extant in the constitution under the equal protection powers recognised when antimiscegenation laws were struck down. The argument has been made by Eugene Volokh that – in looking at the legal history – it is possible that “the amendment process may be used to cut back on the scope of a state constitutional right as well as to add to the scope of such a right.” The thing to question here, though, is the concept of ‘scope’. It isn’t that all marriage rights are being reduced in their reach (say, for instance, like in reducing marriage to a union of only one person to one other) but rather that the availability of this right is being circumscribed utterly from a specific group deemed ineligible for it. It isn’t a matter of scope, or scale, but of type, or kind. This is exactly why the California Court felt the need to refer to the antimiscegenation laws in the first place: because the marriage rights of queers is about granting access not limiting impact. I feel as though it’s important for the queer community to take a stand on that ground too because it’s not ‘only’ about their right to union now but also about a defence of citizenship’s relation to constitutionalism and a stand against the distortion of democracy into a mechanism for arbitrary rule and acclamatory discrimination. Even if a constitutional convention were to be called in the wake of the California Court overruling the amendment, the fact that it had overruled it would be significant in itself, demarcating the court’s authority and setting a very important precedent for future rights battles.

One other thing I’ve found particularly disheartening in the wake of Prop 8 being approved is the vitriol that it has triggered from gay liberals – mostly gay male liberals, I have to point out – against the African-American vote. Joe Mills posted a good example the other day from Dan Savage. If you didn’t get a chance to read the link he put up, I’m sure by now you’ve at least heard the exit poll figure which announced that 70% of African-Americans voted Yes on 8. That’s been bandied about by outraged gays as some sign that blacks are the new queer-crushers. Here’s what Savage had to say: “I’m done pretending that the handful of racist gay white men out there—and they’re out there, and I think they’re scum — are a bigger problem for African Americans, gay and straight, than the huge numbers of homophobic African Americans are for gay Americans, whatever their color.” He pretty much sums up the barely concealed – and totally clueless – intolerant anger that’s now doing the rounds as a quick fix solution for why Prop 8 failed. Of course, it’s garbage. Naturally homophobia exists among African-Americans, just as it does as much among women as men; it’s a heterosexualist alliance. But in the first place, as Joe M pointed out, this focus on African-Americans is a total distraction from the distributive power of homophobia in American society, where the funders and organizers and purveyors of this anti-LGBT movement are white religious conservatives and – as Bernard noted too – the PR machinery that they have developed. It wasn’t African-American churches that put Prop 8 on the ballot; it was the white religious movement, this time refracted through the Mormons; and that’s what counts. African-Americans aren’t the obstacle to progress; they’re the road. And as for the exit poll itself, I’m not sure that it proves that much at all. For starters, the sample is so small, 2240 respondents, of which 10% – 224 – were African-American that it’s hard to say what it signifies exactly about the wider vote. True, the African-American vote in Florida on the gay marriage ban there did attract a similar number in the exit poll – 71%. But as a commenter pointed out on this blog, in California, "According to the exit poll, the final overall split was 51.88 (for) to 49.12 (against). So, if the blacks had voted the same as the latinos (53% in favor), it still would have just passed 50.18 (for) to 49.82 (against). BUT, if blacks had voted in the same way as whites (just barely against Prop 8), the measure would have just barely failed 49.78 (for) to 50.22 (against)." What that means is that there is nothing specifically obstructionist about the bogeyman of black homophobia in the way that Dan Savage has it above. Rather, the obstructionism (as ever) is in the common consensus that has been assembled to deny the LGBT community rights across groups. Indeed, as that same commenter concludes, “Getting more blacks out to vote did not affect the outcome of Prop 8. If, however, blacks were less anti-gay marriage, the Prop could have been Voted NO and would have failed.” The point I’d add is that if any of the groups had been less gay marriage the difference would have made in what was a fairly close ballot.

This nasty reaction to African-Americans in particular, however, in the wake of Prop 8 does indicate something very clear to me though. Namely, that LGBT activism really needs to move past its own anti-religious bias. This great article points out that far more than any theft of their rights by callous blacks at the polls, the real reason Prop 8 went down was due to serious organizational failures. The No on 8 campaign was well financed but it was slow on the uptake and sluggish in attempting to create a solid base. Not only that but as this blog points out, the racial disinterest in the No campaign also played into the minority result at the polls. Commenters like Andrew Sullivan are saying that the 8 'debacle' shows that the legal route is the one to take as it only triggers this sort of electoral backlash. I completely disagree. I’m all for the courts as a grounds for securing the rights of queers. Antimiscegenation laws went down in California in 1948 without some mass conversion of social opinion beforehand and there’s no reason gays should have to cool their heels and wait for the world to change now. Plus laws themselves alter opinions. But at the same time, there does need to be a stronger activist component to the gay rights movement that tries to assemble a wider grassroots base when it faces contestation of its rights. That, in turn, requires rethinking how to grapple with the things that hold a homophobic consensus together and one of the most important of those things is religion. At the moment, the conservatives simply own religion when it comes to discourse on queers. Gays and lesbians really make little attempt to try and open up a dialogue with churches and carve out a theological case in the wider community for why it is that religion is not antithetical to homosexuality. Part of the popular leeriness toward queer marriage is the concept that the admission of queers will secularise it. This is one of the dogwhistle meanings behind the words when conservative preachers beat on about the threat to 'sanctity' of marriage, LGBT activists aren’t addressing this. They aren’t trying to define what determines the inviolability of the marriage bond in terms of the Bible, what makes it holy, in a way that decentralises the heterosexualism that the right insist upon. Nor are they combating the assumption that the Bible is straightforwardly ‘against’ homosexuals. A good starting point on this that can be seen in Daniel Karslake’s very brilliant documentary, For the Bible Tells Me So, which should be widely distributed - for free - to voters in a form of DVD leafletting.

Beyond this, what I find so remarkable is to the degree to which gay rights have gained such traction by drawing on 'like race' arguments to ascertain their equality in the courts but the ongoing obliviousness amongst gay activist to seize on one of the key elements that gained abolitionism authority in the 19th century: namely, biblical battles over passages in the Bible. Conservatives may seem to have the final word on this issue in terms of the Biblical text because there are undeniably passages in the Bible which draw down censure and condemnation and exclusion on homosexuality. But slave-holders had the same advantage and they were argued down. In fact, the act of arguing their moral authority down in this way decisively fed into secessionism. There is already plenty of excellent work being done on the intricacy of the relationship between homosexuality, sexuality and religion but I feel that the over-inflated sense that all churches and believers participate equally in intolerance toward gays acts as a real roadblock to any sustained effort to try and synthesise and promote this information and, through it, form a much-needed religious voting bloc to counter the popular conservative sin and sanctity narratives. Gay activists really need to start guest-speaking in churches wherever they can; to make their case to congregations; and doorknock and have discussions for gay marriage based on appeals to religious rights and biblical exegesis as much as civil equity arguments. The two are coupled together when it comes to queers - they can't be drawn apart. In particular, too, one group of gays and lesbians – a small splinter to be sure, but a vital one – is really left to the side of LGBT activism when they should be at the forefront. These are religious queers. Religious queers are utterly crucial, especially because they are denied rights twice when it comes to gay marriage exclusion: not only in terms of their civil rights, but in terms of their freedom of worship. In that regard, they are able to make the totally legitimate counterclaim that their freedom of religion is being impinged upon by the manipulations of the anti-gay church, who can then be presented as un-American for attempting to inhibit the liberty to worship free of interference that the separation of church and state was designed to facilitate. This avenue of attack has not nearly been explored enough because the idea of a queer religiosity has been taken as accomodationist and normalizing. To an extent, this is true because the Savages and Sullivans of the queer movement have been left to be the advocates for this approach up til now. But religious queerdom really isn’t reactionary in itself, not even moderate; it’s intensely radical because it proposes to make mainstream a reading of sexual relations that does not allow homosexuality to be the easy other of religion. It works to defuse the non-communicability of the pair – which is where conservatives most basically triumphs. A queerness that can rally Christians rightly done is hardly a turn toward assimilation. In fact, it is absolutely against the status quo.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Star Trek Voyager Character
of United States of America

Monday, November 03, 2008

Yma Sumac, 1922-2008

By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 3, 2008

Yma Sumac, a Peruvian folk entertainer with an astonishing vocal range who surged to fame in the 1950s with an "Incan princess" mystique that captivated millions of record-buyers in search of exotic sounds, died of cancer Nov. 1 at an assisted living facility in the Silver Lake section of Los Angeles. She was believed to be 86, according to personal assistant Damon Devine, who said he had seen the birth certificate.

Nearly every biographical aspect of Ms. Sumac's life was long in dispute, including her age, her town of birth and her ancestral claims that on her mother's side she was a descendant of the last Incan emperor, Atahualpa. Fueled by an intensive publicity machine, the rumors grew so thick at one point that she was jokingly rumored to be a "nice Jewish girl from Brooklyn" who had merely reversed her name, Amy Camus.

Ms. Sumac thrived during a postwar period of American music when the exotic was hip and the composer Eden Ahbez ("Nature Boy") was briefly in vogue. Los Angeles Times music critic Don Heckman once called Ms. Sumac "a living, breathing, Technicolor musical fantasy -- a kaleidoscopic illusion of MGM exotica come to life in an era of practicality." Onstage and off, Ms. Sumac adopted a regal poise and stretched back her raven hair to make her haughty cheekbones even more pronounced. She was fond of flamboyant clothing often laden with gold and silver jewelry, and she spoke of her musical influences among jungle animals.

"At night in my bedroom I hear the whoo-whoo of the little birds and I hear the dogs barking very sad," she told People magazine. "That's what I put in my records. I don't bark bow-wow, but I bark whoo, and I sing like the birdies."

As an interpreter of Andean folk-influenced songs, her voice sailed, growled, roared and yelped effortlessly across four octaves -- from bass to soprano to coloratura soprano. She was adept at mimicking animal calls, from toucans to jaguars, and one never knew where she would dot melody with quick, piercing high-D notes. "She's either got a whistle in her throat or three nightingales up her sleeve," said a bassist with whom she recorded early in her career. Composer Virgil Thomson found her voice "impeccable" and recommended her for "the great houses of opera."

Ms. Sumac extended her heyday through the late 1950s with albums for Capitol Records, selling hundreds of thousands of copies. After headlining in Las Vegas and touring internationally, Ms. Sumac drifted into obscurity by the 1970s. Her older recordings popped up on film soundtracks, ensuring that her sound, if not her name, remained in the popular consciousness.

Zoila Augusta Emperatriz Chavárri del Castillo was born Sept. 13, 1922, possibly in the Andean community of Ichocán. Ms. Sumac said she was self-taught and developed great discipline in breathing technique. She caught the attention of Moisés Vivanco, a musicologist and composer from Lima, and they married in 1942. She joined his 46-member troupe of Indian singers and dancers, became a presence on South American radio and began recording folk music under the name Imma Sumack.

In 1946, Ms. Sumac and her husband started a folk trio that mostly played on the Borscht Belt circuit and the back room of a Greenwich Village delicatessen. Her breakthrough was a 1950 engagement at the Hollywood Bowl, which attracted record and film executives. Her subsequent album, "Voice of the Xtabay" (1950), sold more than 500,000 copies. (The "Xtabay" of the album title was fabricated as an Incan word.)

Other albums followed, including "Mambo!" (1954), with fiery arrangements by Billy May, and "Fuego del Ande" (1959). Many of the songs were composed by her husband and based on Andean folk themes, even if purists found them less than authentic.
She played an Arab princess in a short-lived Broadway musical "Flahooley" (1951) and appeared in the Hollywood films "Secret of the Incas" (1954) with Charlton Heston and "Omar Khayyam" (1957) with Cornel Wilde.

By the early 1960s, her popularity in the United States was waning, but she made a triumphant tour of the Soviet Union in 1961 -- Nikita Khrushchev reputedly was a fan -- and cultivated a small but devoted following in Asia, Europe and Latin America. A comeback album of rock music, "Miracles" (1971), had a limited release, and her appearance on David Letterman's late-night show in 1987 was greeted by sarcasm by the host, who asked "Who is this woman?" after her heartfelt rendition of one of her earliest hits, "Ataypura." Periodic concerts and the 2005 release "Queen of Exotica," a massive anthology of her work, kept her most-fervent fans happy and renewed her cult appeal. The magic-comedy team Penn & Teller used her music to score their stage routines. To some music writers, she was an inspiration to punk and rock performers. "All the big stars came to see Yma Sumac," Ms. Sumac told Newsday in 1989. "What is the name of that one, I think Madonna?"

Ms. Sumac's personal life was troubled at times. Her marriage to Vivanco ended in divorce in 1957 after it was revealed that he had fathered twins with his wife's former secretary. She later told a reporter that Vivanco was "cuckoo," adding, "All men is cuckoo."

Survivors include a son from her marriage, Charlie, and three sisters.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Pentagon Finds Company Violated Its Contract on Electrical Work in Iraq

New York Times October 24, 2008
WASHINGTON — The Pentagon has rebuked its largest contractor in Iraq after a series of inspections uncovered shoddy electrical work and other problems on American military bases there, according to several Defense Department officials.

The Defense Contract Management Agency, the Pentagon agency in charge of supervising contractors in Iraq, determined in August that KBR, the Houston-based company that provides virtually all basic services for the American military in both Iraq and Afghanistan, has been guilty of “serious contractual noncompliance” in Iraq, the officials said.

The Pentagon’s finding could lead to cuts or delays in payments to KBR, and ultimately to a decision by the Army to withhold hundreds of millions of dollars in bonuses and fees due the company, officials said, but they added that no decisions on financial penalties had been made.

Defense officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss internal deliberations, declined to elaborate on the reasons for the new findings, except to say that they related to electrical problems and other issues.

KBR, formerly a subsidiary of Halliburton, has had a virtual monopoly on military services contracts in Iraq since the 2003 invasion, garnering more than $24 billion from its business in the war zone.

Questions about the quality of KBR’s electrical work on American bases in Iraq have plagued the company throughout 2008, leading to investigations and hearings by Congress as well as an inquiry by the Pentagon’s inspector general.

Internal Pentagon documents obtained by The New York Times suggest that the electrical problems may be more widespread than had been believed. A chart compiled by Army officials and not previously made public shows that more American personnel have been electrocuted in Iraq than the Bush administration has acknowledged.

At least 18 people have died from electrocution since the March 2003 invasion, including 10 from the Army, 5 from the Marine Corps, 1 from the Navy and 2 military contractors. The most recent electrocution occurred on Feb. 24. A chart listing each electrocution provides details but does not identify the victims by name.

This is the second time that the Pentagon has raised its figures on electrocutions in Iraq. Last spring, the Defense Department said that 12 American personnel members had been electrocuted in the country, and then later told Congress that the accurate figure was 13.

KBR is scrambling to respond with a plan to correct the problems cited by the Defense contracting experts, Pentagon officials said. Pentagon officials held a private meeting with KBR officials in Washington last week to review the company’s response, several of the officials said.

Heather Browne, a spokeswoman for KBR, declined to comment on the Pentagon’s finding.

In the past, some Army contracting experts have complained that their superiors in the Pentagon have been reluctant to confront KBR over its fees and the quality of its work. For example, the Army’s top official in charge of the KBR contract at the beginning of the war has said that he was removed from his job in 2004 after challenging KBR’s billing records for its work in Iraq.

The issue of shoddy electrical work on American military bases in Iraq first emerged in the wake of the death in January of Staff Sgt. Ryan D. Maseth, a Green Beret from Pennsylvania who was electrocuted while taking a shower in his barracks in Baghdad.

Sergeant Maseth’s family went public with their questions about the circumstances surrounding his death and filed a wrongful death lawsuit against KBR, accusing the company of failing to adequately maintain the building’s electrical system.

The Maseth case led to investigations of electrical work on American bases by Congress and the Pentagon’s inspector general, and ultimately prompted an order for comprehensive safety inspections of the electrical work at all American military facilities in Iraq.

Officials said that the Army recently reopened its investigation into Sergeant Maseth’s death, after obtaining new testimony and evidence in the case, including the discovery that another soldier had suffered electrical shocks while assigned to the same room as Sergeant Maseth.

KBR has “fully cooperated with Army C.I.D. on this matter, and we will continue to do so,” Ms. Browne, the spokeswoman, said, referring to the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command. “KBR maintains that its activities in Iraq were not responsible for Staff Sergeant Maseth’s death.”

Friday, October 24, 2008

vlad and friend boris presents 'Song for Sarah' for mrs. Palin

The George Wallace We Forgot

The New York Times
October 24, 2008

JOHN McCAIN deplored them, Barack Obama distanced himself from them, but the comments that Representative John Lewis of Georgia delivered on Oct. 11 may turn out to be some of the most trenchant — and generous — of the campaign. Mr. Lewis charged Mr. McCain and Sarah Palin with “sowing the seeds of hatred and division” in their fervently red-meat rallies, not unlike “a governor of the State of Alabama named George Wallace” whose race-bating rhetoric, Mr. Lewis noted, contributed to the 1963 bombing of the Birmingham church in which four young girls were killed.

The context of Mr. Lewis’s critique is not as has been presented: a saint of the civil rights movement likening a decorated war hero to an infamous racist. Rather, it was a collegial (if rough) caution from one brother to another, about a third, politicians all.

Mr. Lewis’s authority to chastise Mr. McCain comes not from his Bloody Sunday stand on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., in 1965, but rather from his subsequent record on the hustings. His mettle was tested not only in Selma but also in three tough campaigns, characterized by tactics of personal destruction.

The first was his race in 1966 to retain the chairmanship of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. For three years, Mr. Lewis had used his office to promote SNCC’s early emphasis on black and white activists working hand in hand. But by 1966, that inclusive and nonviolent climate was under siege. Peaceful marchers found themselves shadowed by a volunteer bodyguard of shotgun-wielding black militants, and a group known as the Atlanta Separatists was demanding that all whites be expelled from the civil rights leadership.

Things came to a head at SNCC’s convention in May that year, when late-night, back-room maneuvering elevated Stokely Carmichael to the chairmanship, ousting Mr. Lewis. Whites were purged from the organization, and its longtime white supporters were vilified. Carmichael’s successor, H. Rap Brown, changed the group’s name to Student National Coordinating Committee and directly advocated violence. Mr. Lewis’s long labor for racial comity lay in tatters.

In 1982, Mr. Lewis, along with other newly elected black Atlanta city councilmen, faced sound trucks rolling through their neighborhoods accusing them of race treason for not supporting a major road project favored by Mayor Andrew Young. Mr. Lewis stood his ground. He confided to me, then a reporter for The Atlanta Constitution, how upset he was at some of the bullying aimed his way.

In his first bid for Congress, in 1986, the battle that counted was the Democratic primary, where he faced off against Julian Bond. Mr. Lewis was running behind, crippled, some said, by his lack of eloquence. Partisan portrayals (not necessarily perpetrated by Mr. Bond) rewriting his role in civil rights history angered him, and hardened his steel. He fought his way into office by outworking his opponent and — eloquently enough — outdebating him. He brought to Congress not only a visceral understanding of what it’s like to be clubbed into unconsciousness, but also a deep familiarity with the damage inflicted by take-no-prisoners political campaigning.

So to call Mr. Lewis simply a Freedom Rider is to give incomplete acknowledgment to his political struggles.

Likewise, to describe George Wallace as a simple racist is to give his biography short shrift. As a circuit court judge in the 1950s, Wallace was respectful toward blacks, and as a legislator from 1947 to 1953, he was a moderate. In 1948, when Strom Thurmond led the Southern delegations out of the Democratic convention to protest the party’s pioneer civil rights plank, Wallace stayed in his seat. Though no fan of the plank, he was yet more Democrat than demagogue, and was instrumental in rallying the other Southern alternate delegates to save the convention’s quorum, and pass its platform.

He might have carried a tolerant message into the Alabama governor’s mansion in 1958, but he lost the race after spurning the support of the Ku Klux Klan (which then backed his primary opponent, John Patterson) and being endorsed by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Sadly for Wallace’s state, his region, his nation and himself, he did not respond as John Lewis did after his defeat by Carmichael. Mr. Lewis, whenever confronted with calls to divisiveness, chose to redouble his commitment to reason and tolerance. After his loss to Mr. Patterson, Wallace is said to have turned to an aide and declared, “I was out-niggered ... and I’ll never be out-niggered again.”

After Wallace finally won the governorship in 1962, his administration was never as race-hostile as his campaign appeals implied; black leaders found his office door open, and often his mind, too. But he would eternally pay the price for the methods he used to gain that office.

I once saw that price on vivid display, at a Wallace for president rally in downtown Boston. In 1975, that city was contorted by its own race war over school busing, and the enormous two-tier assembly hall was packed. It was an angry crowd — a black television cameraman was punched as he walked up the aisle. In the middle of Wallace’s remarks, there was a loud explosion, and Wallace, who had been paralyzed by a bullet three years earlier, fell forward from his wheelchair into safety behind the podium.

The noise was caused by a crashing klieg light, knocked over in a fracas as a heckler in the balcony was attacked by the crowd. As Wallace clambered back into his chair, his supporters beat the protester bloody and tried to dump him over the balcony rail. “Just an undecided voter, folks. Just an undecided voter,” Wallace pleaded into his microphone, but there was no quelling the fire. “Kill him! Kill him! Kill him!” people in the hall thundered, until the man was rescued — barely — by Secret Service agents.

In the final debate of this presidential campaign, faced with John McCain’s demand that he repudiate Mr. Lewis’s analogy, Barack Obama said he didn’t think his opponent was another George Wallace, and that sounds reasonable if you assume Mr. Lewis was referring to Wallace the vile racist, not the more tragic Wallace, the one-time straight campaigner who bartered conviction for expedience when he thought a raw appeal to division could gain him crucial votes.

It would behoove everyone in the current race for America’s highest offices to pay attention to what Mr. Lewis was really saying, and judge it for its provenance in his long experience. Better than perhaps any living American, he knows that courage on the front line is one thing, and on the campaign stage quite another, knows how tiny and harmless the seeds of fanaticism can seem, how one cry of “kill him” can crescendo into a chorus that can’t be stifled. Mr. Lewis might be deemed generous in wishing on no other member of his profession the harrowed look I witnessed in George Wallace’s eyes as he struggled up off the floor in Boston and beheld what a hell he’d wrought.

Russ Rymer is the author of Genie: A Scientific Tragedy and American Beach: A Saga of Race, Wealth and Memory.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Mask Slips - Bob Herbert in today's New York Times

The Mask Slips

Published: October 10, 2008
The lesson for Americans suffused with anxiety and dread over the crackup of the financial markets is that the way you vote matters, that there are real-world consequences when you go into a voting booth and cast that ballot.

For the nitwits who vote for the man or woman they’d most like to have over for dinner, or hang out at a barbecue with, I suggest you take a look at how well your 401(k) is doing, or how easy it will be to meet the mortgage this month, or whether the college fund you’ve been trying to build for your kids is as robust as you’d like it to be.

Voters in the George W. Bush era gave the Republican Party nearly complete control of the federal government. Now the financial markets are in turmoil, top government and corporate leaders are on the verge of panic and scholars are dusting off treatises that analyzed the causes of the Great Depression.

Mr. Bush was never viewed as a policy or intellectual heavyweight. But he seemed like a nicer guy to a lot of voters than Al Gore.

It’s not just the economy. While the United States has been fighting a useless and irresponsible war in Iraq, Afghanistan — the home base of the terrorists who struck us on 9/11 — has been allowed to fall into a state of chaos. Osama bin Laden is still at large. New Orleans is still on its knees. And so on.

Voting has consequences.

I don’t for a moment think that the Democratic Party has been free of egregious problems. But there are two things I find remarkable about the G.O.P., and especially its more conservative wing, which is now about all there is.

The first is how wrong conservative Republicans have been on so many profoundly important matters for so many years. The second is how the G.O.P. has nevertheless been able to persuade so many voters of modest means that its wrongheaded, favor-the-rich, country-be-damned approach was not only good for working Americans, but was the patriotic way to go.

Remember voodoo economics? That was the derisive term George H.W. Bush used for Ronald Reagan’s fantasy that he could simultaneously increase defense spending, cut taxes and balance the budget. After Reagan became president (with Mr. Bush as his vice president) the budget deficit — surprise, surprise — soared.

In a moment of unusual candor, Reagan’s own chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, Martin Feldstein, gave three reasons for the growth of the deficit: the president’s tax cuts, the increased defense spending and the interest on the expanding national debt.

These were the self-proclaimed fiscal conservatives who were behaving so profligately. The budget was balanced and a surplus realized under Bill Clinton, but soon the “fiscal conservatives” were back in the driver’s seat. “Deficits don’t matter,” said Dick Cheney, and the wildest, most reckless of economic rides was on.

Americans, including the Joe Sixpacks, soccer moms and hockey moms, were repeatedly told that the benefits lavished on the highfliers would trickle down to them. Someday.

Just as they were wrong about trickle down, conservative Republican politicians and their closest buddies in the commentariat have been wrong on one important national issue after another, from Social Security (conservatives opposed it from the start and have been trying to undermine it ever since) to Medicare (Ronald Reagan saw it as the first wave of socialism) to the environment, energy policy and global warming.

When the Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to the discoverers of the link between chlorofluorocarbons and ozone depletion, Tom DeLay, a Republican who would go on to wield enormous power as majority leader in the House, mocked the award as the “Nobel Appeasement Prize.”

Mr. Reagan, the ultimate political hero of so many Republicans, opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In response to the historic Brown v. Board of Education school-desegregation ruling, William F. Buckley, the ultimate intellectual hero of so many Republicans, asserted that whites, being superior, were well within their rights to discriminate against blacks.

“The White community is so entitled,” he wrote, “because, for the time being, it is the advanced race...” He would later repudiate that sentiment, but only after it was clear that his racist view was harmful to himself.

The G.O.P. has done a great job masking the terrible consequences of much that it has stood for over the decades. Now the mask has slipped. As we survey the wreckage of the American economy and the real-life suffering associated with the financial crackup of 2008, it would be well for voters to draw upon the lessons of history and think more seriously about the consequences of the ballots they may cast in the future.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

My comment at Dennis' blog today - following up on Hamlet Day

Jax: Did you mean Shakespeare-related film recommendations? Some of my favorites are (but I have funny tastes and I also don't know how many of these were mentioned already):
Michael Almereyda's Hamlet (2000), the one with Ethan Hawke.
Kurosawa's The Bad Sleep Well (marginally a version of Hamlet)
Aki Kurasmaki's Hamlet Goes Business--a really great quirky indie movie, and I wonder if Almereyda didn't borrow from it.
Shakespeare Behind Bars - a documentary about an ongoing prison project. When you find out the relation between the characters and the crimes committed by the actors who play them, it blows your mind.
Kurosawa's Throne of Blood, maybe the best Shakespeare adaptation ever (from Macbeth)
Peter Greenaway's Prospero's Books (from The Tempest)
Derek Jarman's The Tempest
Forbidden Planet (as an adaptation of The Tempest)
Scotland, Pa. (from Macbeth) - mostly for Christopher Walken doing an amazing Christopher Walken imitation

I hate:
Julie Taymor's Titus
Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet

I'd also like to give a shout-out to Marjorie Garber's book "Shakespeare's Ghost Writers," a very clever deconstruction of the supernatural in the plays, especially good on Macbeth and Hamlet.

And now with your indulgence the funniest Shakespeare-related post I've seen lately--one of my students linked it from McSweeney's after I already put together the Day here:



Horatio thinks he saw a ghost.

Hamlet thinks it's annoying when your uncle marries your mother right after your dad dies.

The king thinks Hamlet's annoying.

Laertes thinks Ophelia can do better.

Hamlet's father is now a zombie.

- - - -

The king poked the queen.

The queen poked the king back.

Hamlet and the queen are no longer friends.

Marcellus is pretty sure something's rotten around here.

Hamlet became a fan of daggers.

- - - -

Polonius says Hamlet's crazy ... crazy in love!

Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and Hamlet are now friends.

Hamlet wonders if he should continue to exist. Or not.

Hamlet thinks Ophelia might be happier in a convent.

Ophelia removed "moody princes" from her interests.

Hamlet posted an event: A Play That's Totally Fictional and In No Way About My Family

The king commented on Hamlet's play: "What is wrong with you?"

Polonius thinks this curtain looks like a good thing to hide behind.

Polonius is no longer online.

- - - -

Hamlet added England to the Places I've Been application.

The queen is worried about Ophelia.

Ophelia loves flowers. Flowers flowers flowers flowers flowers. Oh, look, a river.

Ophelia joined the group Maidens Who Don't Float.

Laertes wonders what the hell happened while he was gone.

- - - -

The king sent Hamlet a goblet of wine.

The queen likes wine!

The king likes ... oh crap.

The queen, the king, Laertes, and Hamlet are now zombies.

Horatio says well that was tragic.

Fortinbras, Prince of Norway, says yes, tragic. We'll take it from here.

Denmark is now Norwegian.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Andrew J. Bacevich on The Disaster

He Told Us to Go Shopping. Now the Bill Is Due.

By Andrew J. Bacevich
Sunday, October 5, 2008

It's widely thought that the biggest gamble President Bush ever took was deciding to invade Iraq in 2003. It wasn't. His riskiest move was actually one made right after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks when he chose not to mobilize the country or summon his fellow citizens to any wartime economic sacrifice. Bush tried to remake the world on the cheap, and as the bill grew larger, he still refused to ask Americans to pay up. During this past week, that gamble collapsed, leaving the rest of us to sort through the wreckage.

To understand this link between today's financial crisis and Bush's wider national security decisions, we need to go back to 9/11 itself. From the very outset, the president described the "war on terror" as a vast undertaking of paramount importance. But he simultaneously urged Americans to carry on as if there were no war. "Get down to Disney World in Florida," he urged just over two weeks after 9/11. "Take your families and enjoy life, the way we want it to be enjoyed." Bush certainly wanted citizens to support his war -- he just wasn't going to require them actually to do anything. The support he sought was not active but passive. It entailed not popular engagement but popular deference. Bush simply wanted citizens (and Congress) to go along without asking too many questions.

So his administration's policies reflected an oddly business-as-usual approach. Senior officials routinely described the war as global in scope and likely to last decades, but the administration made no effort to expand the armed forces. It sought no additional revenue to cover the costs of waging a protracted conflict. It left the nation's economic priorities unchanged. Instead of sacrifices, it offered tax cuts. So as the American soldier fought, the American consumer binged, encouraged by American banks offering easy credit.

From September 2001 until September 2008, this approach allowed Bush to enjoy nearly unfettered freedom of action. To fund the war on terror, Congress gave the administration all the money it wanted. Huge bipartisan majorities appropriated hundreds of billions of dollars, producing massive federal deficits and pushing the national debt from roughly $6 trillion in 2001 to just shy of $10 trillion today. Even many liberal Democrats who decried the war routinely voted to approve this spending, as did conservative Republicans who still trumpeted their principled commitment to fiscal responsibility and balanced budgets.

Bush seems to have calculated -- cynically but correctly -- that prolonging the credit-fueled consumer binge could help keep complaints about his performance as commander in chief from becoming more than a nuisance. Members of Congress calculated -- again correctly -- that their constituents were looking to Capitol Hill for largesse, not lessons in austerity. In this sense, recklessness on Main Street, on Wall Street and at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue proved mutually reinforcing.

For both the Bush administration and Congress, this gambit has turned out to be clever rather than smart. The ongoing crisis on Wall Street has now, in effect, ended the Bush presidency. Meanwhile, a month before elections, panic-stricken members of Congress are desperately trying to insulate Main Street from the effects of that crisis -- or at least to pass the blame onto someone else.

But in less obvious ways, the economic crisis also renders a definitive verdict on the country's post-9/11 national security strategy. The "go to Disney World" approach to waging war has produced large, unanticipated consequences. When the American people, as instructed, turned their attention back to enjoying life, their hankering for prosperity without pain deprived the administration of the wherewithal needed over the long haul to achieve some truly ambitious ends.

Even today, the scope of those ambitions is not widely understood, in part due to the administration's own obfuscations. After September 2001, senior officials described U.S. objectives as merely defensive, designed to prevent further terrorist attacks. Or they wrapped America's purposes in the gauze of ideology, saying that our aim was to spread freedom and eliminate tyranny. But in reality, the Bush strategy conceived after 9/11 was expansionist, shaped above all by geopolitical considerations. The central purpose was to secure U.S. preeminence across the strategically critical and unstable greater Middle East. Securing preeminence didn't necessarily imply conquering and occupying this vast region, but it did require changing it -- comprehensively and irrevocably. This was not some fantasy nursed by neoconservatives at the Weekly Standard or the American Enterprise Institute. Rather, it was the central pillar of the misnamed enterprise that we persist in calling the "global war on terror."

At a Pentagon press conference on Sept. 18, 2001, then-defense secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld let the cat out of the bag: "We have a choice, either to change the way we live, which is unacceptable, or to change the way that they live, and we chose the latter." This was not some slip of the tongue. The United States was now out to change the way "they" -- i.e., hundreds of millions of Muslims living in the Middle East -- live. Senior officials did not shrink from -- perhaps even relished -- the magnitude of the challenges that lay ahead. The idea, wrote chief Pentagon strategist Douglas J. Feith in a May 2004 memo, was to "transform the Middle East and the broader world of Islam generally."

But if the administration's goals were grandiose, its means were modest. The administration's governing assumption was that the U.S. military, as constituted in late 2001, ought to suffice to transform the Middle East. Bush could afford to tell the American people to go on holiday and head back to the mall because the indomitable American soldier could be counted on to liberate (and thereby pacify) the Muslim world.

For a while, that seemed to work: The Taliban fell quickly, with little need for the U.S. taxpayer to shell out for a larger military. But the Bush team turned quickly to Iraq, hoping to demonstrate on an even grander scale what the determined exercise of U.S. power could achieve. This proved a fatal miscalculation. After five and a half years of arduous effort, Iraq continues to drain U.S. resources on a colossal scale. Violence is down, but expenditures are not. An end to the U.S. commitment is nowhere in sight.

The achievements of Gen. David H. Petraeus notwithstanding, the primary lesson of the Iraq war remains this one: To imagine that the United States can easily and cheaply invade, occupy and redeem any country in the Muslim world is sheer folly. That holds true in Afghanistan, too, where the reinforcements that Gen. David D. McKiernan, the recently appointed U.S. commander, says he needs to turn things around will be unavailable until at least next spring.

Yet there is an economic lesson here too. "We have more will than wallet," the president's father said in 1989 during his own inaugural address. That is again painfully true today. The 2008 election finds the Pentagon cupboard bare, the U.S. Treasury depleted, the economy in disarray and the average American household feeling acute distress. Profligacy at home and profligacy abroad have combined to produce a grave crisis. This time around, telling Americans to head for Disney World won't work. The credit card's already maxed out, and the banks are refusing to pony up for new loans.

It's not surprising that people don't cotton to the idea of spending $700 billion to bail out Wall Street. Nor should they find it acceptable to spend as much as that, or more, to perpetuate a misguided and never-ending global war. But like it or not, the bill collector is pounding on the door. Bush's parting gift to the nation will be to let others figure out how to settle accounts.

Andrew J. Bacevich is a professor of history and international relations at Boston University. His new book is "The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism."

Thursday, September 25, 2008

David Ignatius on the Disaster

What Keynes Could Tell Paulson
By David Ignatius
Washington Post Thursday, September 25, 2008

In times like these, when even the most sober analysts are wondering if we're heading for another Great Depression, it's wise to take a deep breath, head to the basement and dust off a copy of John Maynard Keynes's modestly titled 1936 treatise, "The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money."

Most of us remember Keynes from our college economics courses as the guy who advocated deficit spending to "prime the pump" during downturns. And that was certainly part of his argument. But revisiting "The General Theory," what's striking is that it's a book about economic panics and the market psychology that produces them -- and the consequent need for government intervention. Parts of it could have been written this week to describe the cascading defaults of Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers and AIG.

The problem with financial markets, Keynes argued, was that investors were periodically seized by an extreme form of what he called "liquidity preference," which made them wary of putting their money into anything but the safest investments. "It is of the nature of organized investment markets . . . that, when disillusion falls upon an over-optimistic and over-bought market, it should fall with sudden and even catastrophic force," he wrote. "Once doubt begins it spreads rapidly."

That's a pretty good description of what has been happening on Wall Street over the past few months. We've gone from a bubble of overenthusiasm, in which interest-rate spreads took little account of risk, to a state of panic in which financial institutions are so risk-averse that they don't want to lend to anyone. As Keynes observed, "the actual, private object of the most skilled investment today is . . . to outwit the crowd, and to pass the bad, or depreciating, half-crown to the other fellow."

Keynes's revolutionary idea was that financial markets were not inherently self-correcting, as classical economics had argued. Left to itself, Wall Street might remain in a liquidity trap in which the markets would stay frozen and productive investment would cease. So it fell to the government to take actions that would restore confidence and stimulate investment. "I conclude that the duty of ordering the current volume of investment cannot safely be left in private hands," he wrote.

Which brings us to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and the present financial crisis. Since he intervened to rescue Bear Stearns in March, Paulson has been trying to pump cash into markets that are locking up because of the extreme liquidity preference of investors. But each rescue measure only sets up the next disaster -- so that Paulson lurches from Bear Stearns to Fannie and Freddie to AIG, and now to a government pledge to buy up $700 billion or more of mortgage-backed securities.

What advice would Keynes offer Paulson and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke? His first instinct, I think, would be to reiterate that markets, left to themselves, will not solve this sort of crisis. They need government help -- in this case, on a scale that would have daunted even Keynes -- including underwriting mortgage loans, backstopping the market for credit swaps and other steps. But if these measures are taken piecemeal, without broad political support, they may only add to the public's anxiety. Indeed, that's a real worry now: A Wall Street panic may become a Main Street panic.

Keynes's biographer, Robert Skidelsky, makes clear that at every stage of Keynes's career, he tried to think broadly about the social and political consequences of economic policy. That was true in his famous denunciation of onerous German reparations payments after World War I, which he correctly warned would lead to a future war; it was true in the magnanimity of the post-World War II international financial system he helped create at Bretton Woods.

A truly Keynesian rescue plan should do more than bail out foolish investors. How might the pieces fit into a larger design? Well, if the taxpayers are going to acquire a stake in the nation's largest insurance company, perhaps that company can be the cornerstone of a new system of universal private health coverage. If the taxpayers are going to acquire $700 billion in real estate assets, perhaps the eventual profits can fund new investments in infrastructure or energy technology.

Keynes spoke in the finicky English of a Cambridge don, but listen to what he said: "When the capital development of a country becomes a byproduct of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done." Keynes wouldn't have wanted to nationalize that casino; he was an active investor himself. But he reminds us that public purposes are best served by public institutions.

James K. Galbraith on the Disaster

A Bailout We Don't Need

By James K. Galbraith
Washington Post Thursday, September 25, 2008

Now that all five big investment banks -- Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley -- have disappeared or morphed into regular banks, a question arises.

The point of the bailout is to buy assets that are illiquid but not worthless. But regular banks hold assets like that all the time. They're called "loans."

With banks, runs occur only when depositors panic, because they fear the loan book is bad. Deposit insurance takes care of that. So why not eliminate the pointless $100,000 cap on federal deposit insurance and go take inventory? If a bank is solvent, money market funds would flow in, eliminating the need to insure those separately. If it isn't, the FDIC has the bridge bank facility to take care of that.

Next, put half a trillion dollars into the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. fund -- a cosmetic gesture -- and as much money into that agency and the FBI as is needed for examiners, auditors and investigators. Keep $200 billion or more in reserve, so the Treasury can recapitalize banks by buying preferred shares if necessary -- as Warren Buffett did this week with Goldman Sachs. Review the situation in three months, when Congress comes back. Hedge funds should be left on their own. You can't save everyone, and those investors aren't poor.

With this solution, the systemic financial threat should go away. Does that mean the economy would quickly recover? No. Sadly, it does not. Two vast economic problems will confront the next president immediately. First, the underlying housing crisis: There are too many houses out there, too many vacant or unsold, too many homeowners underwater. Credit will not start to flow, as some suggest, simply because the crisis is contained. There have to be borrowers, and there has to be collateral. There won't be enough.

In Texas, recovery from the 1980s oil bust took seven years and the pull of strong national economic growth. The present slump is national, and it can't be cured that way. But it could be resolved in three years, rather than 10, by a new Home Owners Loan Corp., which would rewrite mortgages, manage rental conversions and decide when vacant, degraded properties should be demolished. Set it up like a draft board in each community, under federal guidelines, and get to work.

The second great crisis is in state and local government. Just Tuesday, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced $1.5 billion in public spending cuts. The scenario is playing out everywhere: Schools, fire departments, police stations, parks, libraries and water projects are getting the ax, while essential maintenance gets deferred and important capital projects don't get built. This is pernicious when unemployment is rising and when we have all the real resources we need to preserve services and expand public investment. It's also unnecessary.

What to do? Reenact Richard Nixon's great idea: federal revenue sharing. States and localities should get the funds to plug their revenue gaps and maintain real public spending, per capita, for the next three to five years. Also, enact the National Infrastructure Bank, making bond revenue available in a revolving fund for capital improvements. There is work to do. There are people to do it. Bring them together. What could be easier or more sensible?

Here's another problem: the wealth loss to near-retirees and the elderly from a declining stock market as things shake out. How about taking care of this, with rough justice, through a supplement to Social Security? If you need a revenue source, impose a turnover tax on stocks.

Next, let's think about what the next upswing should try to achieve and how it should be powered. If the 1960s were about raising baby boomers and the '90s about technology, what should the '10s and '20s be about? It's obvious: energy and climate change. That's where the present great unmet needs are.

So, let's use the next few years to plan, mapping out a program of energy conservation, reconstruction and renewable power. Let's get the public sector and the universities working on it. And let's prepare the private sector so that when the credit crunch finally ends, we'll have the firms, the labs, the standards and the talent in place, ready to go.

Some will ask if we can afford it. To see the answer, don't look at budget projections. Just look at interest rates. Last week, in the panic, the federal government could fund itself, short term, for free. It could have raised money for 30 years and paid less than 4 percent. That's far less than it cost back in 2000.

No country in this situation is broke, or insolvent, or even in much trouble. For once, Wall Street's own markets speak the truth. The financially challenged customer isn't Uncle Sam. He's up on Wall Street, where deregulation, greed and fraud ran wild.

James K. Galbraith is the author of "The Predator State: How Conservatives Abandoned the Free Market and Why Liberals Should Too."

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Paul Krugman on The Disaster

Cash for Trash

New York Times September 21, 2008

Some skeptics are calling Henry Paulson’s $700 billion rescue plan for the U.S. financial system “cash for trash.” Others are calling the proposed legislation the Authorization for Use of Financial Force, after the Authorization for Use of Military Force, the infamous bill that gave the Bush administration the green light to invade Iraq.

There’s justice in the gibes. Everyone agrees that something major must be done. But Mr. Paulson is demanding extraordinary power for himself — and for his successor — to deploy taxpayers’ money on behalf of a plan that, as far as I can see, doesn’t make sense.

Some are saying that we should simply trust Mr. Paulson, because he’s a smart guy who knows what he’s doing. But that’s only half true: he is a smart guy, but what, exactly, in the experience of the past year and a half — a period during which Mr. Paulson repeatedly declared the financial crisis “contained,” and then offered a series of unsuccessful fixes — justifies the belief that he knows what he’s doing? He’s making it up as he goes along, just like the rest of us.

So let’s try to think this through for ourselves. I have a four-step view of the financial crisis:

1. The bursting of the housing bubble has led to a surge in defaults and foreclosures, which in turn has led to a plunge in the prices of mortgage-backed securities — assets whose value ultimately comes from mortgage payments.

2. These financial losses have left many financial institutions with too little capital — too few assets compared with their debt. This problem is especially severe because everyone took on so much debt during the bubble years.

3. Because financial institutions have too little capital relative to their debt, they haven’t been able or willing to provide the credit the economy needs.

4. Financial institutions have been trying to pay down their debt by selling assets, including those mortgage-backed securities, but this drives asset prices down and makes their financial position even worse. This vicious circle is what some call the “paradox of deleveraging.”

The Paulson plan calls for the federal government to buy up $700 billion worth of troubled assets, mainly mortgage-backed securities. How does this resolve the crisis?

Well, it might — might — break the vicious circle of deleveraging, step 4 in my capsule description. Even that isn’t clear: the prices of many assets, not just those the Treasury proposes to buy, are under pressure. And even if the vicious circle is limited, the financial system will still be crippled by inadequate capital.

Or rather, it will be crippled by inadequate capital unless the federal government hugely overpays for the assets it buys, giving financial firms — and their stockholders and executives — a giant windfall at taxpayer expense. Did I mention that I’m not happy with this plan?

The logic of the crisis seems to call for an intervention, not at step 4, but at step 2: the financial system needs more capital. And if the government is going to provide capital to financial firms, it should get what people who provide capital are entitled to — a share in ownership, so that all the gains if the rescue plan works don’t go to the people who made the mess in the first place.

That’s what happened in the savings and loan crisis: the feds took over ownership of the bad banks, not just their bad assets. It’s also what happened with Fannie and Freddie. (And by the way, that rescue has done what it was supposed to. Mortgage interest rates have come down sharply since the federal takeover.)

But Mr. Paulson insists that he wants a “clean” plan. “Clean,” in this context, means a taxpayer-financed bailout with no strings attached — no quid pro quo on the part of those being bailed out. Why is that a good thing? Add to this the fact that Mr. Paulson is also demanding dictatorial authority, plus immunity from review “by any court of law or any administrative agency,” and this adds up to an unacceptable proposal.

I’m aware that Congress is under enormous pressure to agree to the Paulson plan in the next few days, with at most a few modifications that make it slightly less bad. Basically, after having spent a year and a half telling everyone that things were under control, the Bush administration says that the sky is falling, and that to save the world we have to do exactly what it says now now now.

But I’d urge Congress to pause for a minute, take a deep breath, and try to seriously rework the structure of the plan, making it a plan that addresses the real problem. Don’t let yourself be railroaded — if this plan goes through in anything like its current form, we’ll all be very sorry in the not-too-distant future.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

My political joke

Q: Why did John McCain choose Sarah Palin for his running mate?
A: Jesse Ventura wouldn't return his calls.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Tribe

Dream of August 11
As I approach the door of the house with Art (the Gude Ave. house), I see that the lock has been removed. We enter the house and the TV and stereo are missing. In the bedroom there’s also a TV missing. I am anxious because I think the burglar may still be here or come back, and I say that I don’t want to stay in the house tonight. Suddenly a short young guy appears right in front of me, trying to run for the door. He’s small and slight; it’s easy to catch him. He begs me not to call the police, but his reasons are ridiculous, and I’m going to. But then anther guy dashes across the room and I’m distracted and the first guy gets away. The second guy runs downstairs. At the head of the stairs I can see that the basement is dark and I’m nervous, but as I descend I see that there are young people who are like squatters down there; they seem like anarchist hippie types that I actually would think are pretty cool. Some are gathered around a fire and I see that they are “tribal”—that is, they think of themselves as a tribe—and they’re not at all concerned that I’m there, as if they were my hosts and not squatters. I look at the back door, at the laundry room and bathroom, and at a grid in the ceiling that leads outdoors, and each time I look back there are more of these people, and it occurs to me that it’s like the gathering of the crows in The Birds. Then I find that they are discussing Hitchcock and how great his movies are.

Monday, July 07, 2008

You know, the worst thing about having multiple personalities is trying to convince the waiter you need separate checks when you're eating alone.

Friday, June 20, 2008

C'mon Y'all, Shake That Thing

Which of these is the more horrifying video? Specifically, which is the more horrifying resurrection of long-rightfully-dead cultural cliches that were horrifying the first time around?

John Cornyn Ad

Bearforce1 - Shake that thing

Saturday, June 14, 2008

How bad is The Happening?
If a tenth-grader had submitted the script in a writing class, you'd be looking for a gentle way to say, "This is some really immature work for a person your age."
The Happening would make Al Gore say, "Enough with this global-warming bullshit already."
The Happening makes Don't Mess with the Zohan look like Citizen Kane.
The Happening is beneath the dignity and the talents of Zooey Deschanel.
Watching The Happening is a lot like watching Mark Wahlberg play that scene in The Simpsons where Sideshow Bob keeps stepping on a rake and hitting himself in the face, over and over--except not funny.
As entertainment, The Happening stands as some kind of curious hybrid of watching a demented child pull the wings off flies and watching paint dry--emphasizing the worst aspects of each.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Polanski Dream

Watched the Roman Polanski doc on HBO last night. This morning I dreamed that I was visiting Polanski in Paris--actually, I was with a kind of seminar group and Polanski pulled me aside to show me some stuff--he was thinking of putting together an exhibition of art that had been created as death-threats against him. There was a series of watercolors (these were very clearly stylistically like the drawings from the courtroom that were used a lot in the documentary) in which people were pulling guns on him, and there was a black and white film (like Knife in the Water) in which he was attacked by a shark. It was a very sun-filled room, everything had been archived neatly on beautiful racks, and he was asking me in a very friendly way, completely at his ease, if I thought the exhibition was a good idea.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Dennis just sent this picture of me and John Bernd--dancer, lovely guy--in, I'd guess, 1980

The greatest cinematic moment in all of cinematic history

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Bernard has some big ideas

"THE WORLD'S BECOME completely unpredictable on a large scale," says writer Bernard Welt.
He says that pollutants and man-made alterations have rendered our rock-steady notions of Earth as stable algorithm totally obsolete, and while he would love for this to be manifested as "a rain of frogs," we'll just have to settle for ice caps melting, winters becoming intemperately warm and other subtle indications of irreconcilable climate change.
He says all of these things when summarizing the message of a seminal piece of environmental literature: Bill McKibben's 1989 book "The End of Nature," which helped plant the idea of global warming into the lives of everyday Americans.
Welt, along with fellow writers Judith McCombs and Nan Fry, will be tackling McKibben's ideas in a poetry reading on April 19 at the Warehouse Gallery, in conjunction with the art exhibition "The End of Nature."
Why poetry?
"[Poetry] brings a kind of focused attention to the world that I think we don't have time for" in our modern world, Fry says.
That includes looking at the natural world that we live in every day, be it going out and drinking in the Appalachians or noticing the scrappy tree in McPherson Square that we usually overlook en route to the Metro.
Our idea of nature has completely changed in the last50 years, McCombs says, and "instead of Nature — the monster that you find in so much Anglo-Canadian literature — you have 'Nature,' the terribly, terribly endangered."
Each poet will be reading his or her poems about nature, or man's place in it. Fry will be reading her poems about particular aspects of nature that she enjoys, such as individual plants or animals. McCombs will be reading from her recent book of nature poetry, "The Habit of Fire." Welt plans to read a longer piece analyzing our stance toward the natural world.
But expecting to inspire social change through poetry offers it own challenges.
"When you think climate change or Free Tibet, you don't always think, 'Hey, I know what we can do — let's have a poetry reading!'" says Welt. It's hard for poetry to stay relevant, he says, in an age of "tabloidism and e-mail" — but he also thinks that our attitude toward spontaneous e-mail writing and reading could actually translate into a healthy appetite for poetry.
"If [poetry] ends up an academic hobby — the last thing you want as a poet is to be like the guy at the Renaissance Fair who goes around playing the lute," he says. "That's no fun, for a poet. So you do want to do something that has a real impact on real people, bringing up real issues."
"I want people to take nature seriously, and to think about it," adds McCombs.
» Warehouse, 1021 7th St. NW; through May 4, free; 202-783-3933. (Mt. Vernon Square)

Written by Express' Chris Combs

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Bearapalooza Roadtrip 2008

It's horrifying, and yet you can't look away.

Artificial People

April 12-15 at Frankenfolk, blog for my Humanities section on "Children of Frankenstein": Images and video of automata; computing pioneers; artficial beings in literature; contemporary robotics; uncanny valley -- supplement to reading of Stanley Perkowitz, Digital People.
Video of automata, Elektro at 1939 World's Fair, The Tin Man, audio-animatronic Lincoln, Cog, ASIMO, dancing robots, a lecture on the Uncanny Valley, "Mickey's Mechanical Man."
Also see Dave Bryant on The Uncanny Valley.
April 4: Video and Images from Metropolis.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

I wouldn't be thinking about this if I hadn't decided to include The Communist Manifesto in Humanities this semester--the topic is Children of Frankenstein again, but I wanted to cover Marx to introduce the idea of Labor as a human relation to Nature that's profoundly changed by new technologies, and to give some basis for discussion of Metropolis, which follows next on the schedule.
Because of this, I'm thinking that the most interesting about Maria is what she doesn't do: Rottwang's apparent aim in creating the robot is to make human laborers completely obsolete--the etymology of robot as Czech for "slave." But Freder wants her as an agent-provocateur and perhaps lover.
The shift from robot to AI and the shift from industrial to service economy both involve a shift in the fantasy of the artificial person--from freeing humans from the need to do manual labor to a focus on fulfilling desires for power and sex. This is probably very old news to the post-human people, but it's a nice topic for my class.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

From The Onion

Bush Vows To Make It Up To Country Somehow
FEBRUARY 27, 2008 | ISSUE 44•09

WASHINGTON—Amid allegations that his thoughtless and insensitive decisions have damaged his relationship with the nation, President George W. Bush vowed Monday that he would, starting now, "make everything better."

"This time I'm serious," Bush said. "I am ready to make a fresh start if we can just put the past behind us. I promise."

Bush swears that this time he's really going to pay attention to all 280 million U.S. citizens, and try to do right by them for once.

An estimated 35 million citizens listened to the president's televised remarks while silently crying behind locked bathroom doors.

Though Bush told all Americans they owed it to him to give him one more chance, he admitted that there was no excuse for his mishandling of national affairs.

"Things have just been so crazy at work lately," he said.

During the 14-minute address Bush acknowledged that he and the country had drifted apart. He accepted some of the blame, but stressed that it was partly the American people's fault, and went on to chide them for not giving him an opportunity to explain, not standing behind him, and failing to understand his "very real" need for unchecked executive authority.

"My job is stressful," Bush said. "Trust me, things will calm down in a few months once I don't have to deal with it anymore."

The president, whose approval ratings have dropped steadily in recent years, said he had no idea how bad things had gotten until he found out that an overwhelming percentage of Americans didn't even bother responding to an opinion poll this month about his recent $3.1 trillion budget proposal.

Bush has since taken steps towards reconciliation with the American people, including promoting a promise to help alleviate the fiscal woes the U.S. has faced in recent months. Bush said he knew that the $300 he intended to give to every citizen "couldn't possibly make up for how [he has] governed," but nevertheless asked the nation to have faith in him.

"I know it's not much, but it's a start, right?" Bush said. "And it hasn't always been bad. Doesn't this remind you of that other $300 rebate I gave you in 2003? You always forget all the times I'm a really great president. We have really had some wonderful moments."

"Cut me some slack here, for Christ's sake," Bush continued. "I'm trying. I really am."

In addition to providing economic relief, Bush said he has taken other measures to strengthen his bond with the nation. According to the president, his newly proposed warrantless-wiretapping bill will greatly broaden the reach of his personal attention to the American people's needs and put him in a position to be more directly involved in their lives.

The president concluded by imploring the nation to help him rectify the situation, stressing that he always has America's best interests at heart but cannot be expected to improve things all by himself.

"You have to realize that everything I do, I do for you," Bush said. "Do you think I like denying health care to underprivileged children, or plunging the country deeper and deeper into debt? Well, I don't, and I hope someday you'll understand that. In the meantime, I'm asking the American people to try to meet me halfway on this."

Despite Bush's seemingly conciliatory stance, public response to Bush's promises has been frosty at best. Cato Institute policy scholar Brian Whitaker echoed the sentiments of many Americans, calling Bush's recent overtures "too little, too late."

"We want to believe that he's finally going to be the president we always wanted, but we've given him so many chances," Whitaker said. "I don't think we can handle another disappointment. Maybe it's time to realize that President Bush will never be the head of state we need him to be."

"Then again, maybe our expectations are unfair," Whitaker added. "He seemed so sincere this time. He wouldn't abuse his executive powers if he didn't care about us, right?"

Whitaker predicted that the nation will likely move forward and try to forget Bush, though it may be difficult for Americans to ever trust a president again. He said the current crop of presidential contenders offers little in the way of an alternative to Bush, but maintained that "at least Barack Obama listens to us."

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Friday, February 29, 2008

The single most revolting Washington Post article in recent years.
The key here, as usual, is for the reporter to project her own insensitivity, shallowness, and need for acceptance on to her subjects.

U.S. Imprisons One in 100 Adults, Report Finds

Published: February 29, 2008

For the first time in the nation’s history, more than one in 100 American adults are behind bars, according to a new report.Nationwide, the prison population grew by 25,000 last year, bringing it to almost 1.6 million, after three decades of growth that has seen the prison population nearly triple. Another 723,000 people are in local jails.

The number of American adults is about 230 million, meaning that one in every 99.1 adults is behind bars.

Incarceration rates are even higher for some groups. One in 36 adult Hispanic men is behind bars, based on Justice Department figures for 2006. One in 15 adult black men is, too, as is one in nine black men ages 20 to 34.

The report, from the Pew Center on the States, also found that one in 355 white women ages 35 to 39 is behind bars, compared with one in 100 black women.

More here (Times)
and here (Pew report)

Thursday, February 28, 2008


I was surprised and disappointed that more than one of the reviewers of David Mamet's November claimed that the play wasn't serious about politics--a very strange complaint to make about a satire. It seemed to come from some sense that the play ought to be telling you what policies to endorse or what party to vote for, and particularly to represent a protest against the play's suggestion that the whole of democratic political process is corrupted by venality and self-seeking. 
This venality and self-seeking, as Socrates might say, is so manifestly not in the politicians' own best interests that it can only be represented by Aristophanic satire. Michael Clayton is a good movie but it's rendered sentimental by its insistent attempt to divide the individuals in the midst of corporations and law firms into good guys and bad guys, although it does adopt the nice device, in common with Network (as a lot of people have pointed out), of putting forth a madman as the only one who really understands and appreciates the enormity of what's happening.
Somebody or other pointed out that in screwball comedy, the clock is always running out. November has a lot in common with The Front Page and His Girl Friday, in which the impending deadline is also an election.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Jason, Michael, or David. That's all I'm saying.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Two Guys and a Chick Set Off Tiff Over School Library Policy

"And Tango Makes Three," shown in a bookstore display, is based on the behavior of penguins at a zoo. (By Nam Y. Huh -- Associated Press)

Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 17, 2008; Page C06

A children's book about two male penguins that hatch and parent a chick was pulled from library shelves in Loudoun County elementary schools this month after a parent complained that it promoted a gay agenda.

The decision by Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick III led many parents and gay rights advocates to rush to the penguins' defense. Many say that the school system should not have allowed one complaint to limit children's literary choices. Some are calling for an overhaul of the book review policy. Besides, many say, what could be wrong with a book about penguins?

The book is based "on a true story . . . of what happens in the animal kingdom," said David Weintraub, director of Equality Loudoun, a gay rights organization. "It's about the joy of being part of a family. These penguins love each other. They take care of each other."

The book, "And Tango Makes Three," by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, draws on the real-life story of Roy and Silo, two chinstrap penguins at the Central Park Zoo in New York. It also appears to make a point about tolerance of alternative families.

The publisher, Simon & Schuster, offers discussion questions about the book on a Web site. One says: "Tango has two fathers instead of the traditional mother and father. Do you have a nontraditional family, or do you know someone who does?"

As the book says, Roy and Silo were "a little bit different" than the boy and girl penguins who noticed each other and became couples. "Wherever Roy went, Silo went too." After they tried to hatch an egg-shaped rock together, a zookeeper gave them a fertilized egg to nurture. Experts say male chinstraps typically share incubation duties with females.

The 2005 book, written with simple words and colorful pictures and dedicated "to penguin lovers everywhere," topped the American Library Association's list of banned or challenged books in 2006. Parents challenged the book in Shiloh, Ill., and Charlotte. Administrators in Charlotte initially yanked the book but later restored it, according to news reports.

In Loudoun, the book was challenged at Sugarland Elementary School several months ago, officials said, by a parent they declined to name.

Following school system policy, the principal convened an advisory committee of principals, librarians, teachers and parents to review the book. The group deemed it acceptable, and the principal concurred. The parent appealed. Another committee of administrators, librarians and parents reviewed the book. That committee, too, recommended that it remain in the collection.

Hatrick made the final call. Wayde B. Byard, a schools spokesman, said Friday that Hatrick made a "split decision." Although "Tango" was pulled from the shelves, it will remain in the librarian's collection. At 16 elementary schools, the book is now part of the professional collection, where it is stored with instructional texts and can be checked out only by parents or teachers. It's still in the general collection at one middle school and two high schools.

Hatrick thought the book's content might not be developmentally appropriate for some students, Byard said. "He thought the book, for some of the younger students, would be better read with an adult or a teacher," he said.

But censorship watchdogs say Hatrick's decision still sends a strong message.

"If you are putting something behind a desk, you are saying something is wrong with it," said Judith Krug, director of the office for intellectual freedom at the American Library Association. "It's a degree of censorship, because they are making access to information extremely difficult."

Nikki George, a Sterling parent, said her daughter, a second-grader, tried to take the book out of her library at Forest Grove Elementary in Sterling last week and was told that she could not. She had heard the story last year, when a minister at her Unitarian Universalist church read it to a group of children during a service.

George said that the book helps teach a lesson that she wants her children to know: There are all types of families. "We happen to be a mom and dad and a boy and a girl," she said. "But sometimes you have a grandmother and a mother, sometimes you have just a dad, sometimes you have two moms or two dads. The important thing is that it's a family of love."

Some parents and activists want to challenge Hatrick's decision and put the book back on shelves, but school system officials say there is no process to do that.

John Stevens, a school board member from Potomac, criticized those policies. Under the heading "Put The Penguins Back," he wrote on his blog that the policies, last reviewed in 1993, are "deeply flawed and led to a bad decision."

Stevens wrote that parents should determine what is appropriate for their children. "The school should not be an instrument of censorship for parents who want veto power over the judgment of other parents," he wrote.

Stevens intends to propose a new set of policies at a committee meeting March 4.

Last school year, a Loudoun parent challenged a school library book titled "Math Curse" because of a concern that it could be associated with witchcraft, said David Jones, supervisor of library media services.

A local committee recommended keeping "Math Curse" in the library. The decision was not appealed.