Thursday, June 29, 2006

The plague of air conditioning

A window on downtown Houston

Having grown up in Houston, a town whose climate and "culture" I loathe, this definitely resonates.

America's Air-Conditioned Nightmare

By Stan Cox

Air-conditioning puts a chill on community spirit, aids the cause of anti-enviros, and just might have given us President George W. Bush.

Keeping people indoors and comfortable reinforces a tight focus on the individual or nuclear family rather than a larger community, and that is part of what's crippling grassroots political action.

Air-conditioning helps numb us to the prospect of ecological breakdown on a planetary scale as well. It's more tempting to think of global warming as a problem that only people in sweltering Bangladesh will have to deal with when we view their flood-prone plight from a seat in a cool living room or movie theater.


There is quite a bit more. Well worth a read.

Cue theme music: Little Boxes, followed by Kerosene, and Anahuac.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

This is what a Niagara of ridicule looks like

In a rhetorically overblown attempt to sneer at the YearlyKos convention, Christopher Hitchens cites Alexander Cockburn's actually quite excellent critique of the event.
The Daily Kos lot received such a Niagara of ridicule for their meeting in Las Vegas (Alexander Cockburn's column in The Nation, available in a slightly different form on the Counterpunch site, making me almost feel sorry for them) that I now feel guilty for piling on.*
This is funny for numerous reasons. First, outside of Hitchens' imagination, there was no Niagara of ridicule, just Cockburn and a few others on the left. The reaction of the mainstream media was surprisingly deferential, considering. They actually paid attention to a bloggers' convention as a potentially serious political force with multiple prominent articles in the New York Times and elsewhere. And as for almost feeling guilty for piling on, he is obviously simply lying.

Even funnier is the fact that he would choose to cite Cockburn on anything, given the true Niagara of ridicule Cockburn has quite justifiably channeled in his direction. The same day Hitchens published his piece, Cockburn had this gem on his website:
Hitchens Hails the "Glorious War"

The recent memorial for long-term New York Review co-editor Barbara Epstein, sadly felled by cancer on June 15, was disfigured by an unseemly outbursts from Christopher Hitchens. There was a list of invitees for the private ceremony and C. Hitchens -- a sometime NYT contributor -- was not on the list. He implored to be admitted, and some misguidedly decent soul gave him the green light.Visibly taken with drink, in the estimate of at least one observer, Hitchens showed up and soon made his way to Jean Stein, a close friend of Barbara Epstein, also editor of Grand Street in recent years. Hitchens spared Stein the habitual presentation of his hairy cheek but made a low, facetious bow and offered his hand. Stein icily declined, saying she had no desire to shake hands with him for many reasons, not least the fact that Hitchens had attacked one of her best friends, Edward Said, while he was on his death bed. As Hitchens retreated, someone remarked to him, "So your glorious war has turned out to be a total disaster, hasn't it?" "It is glorious,"the sodden scrivener blared, "and it is my war because it needed Paul Wolfowitz and myself to go and convince the President to go to war."As mourners digested this megalomanic outburst, Hitchens continued, "And we are going to kill every Al Qaida terrist and Baathist in the country and that's a good thing. They need to be killed and we will kill them."
In context with many, many other similar pieces Cockburn has written about Hitchens the drink soaked, born again warmonger, this is indeed what a Niagara of ridicule looks like.

The rest of Hitchens' article, along with the entirety of his writings since 9/11, recently covering such erudite topics as the manly American quality of blowjobs, is not worth the bother of reading. Just pathetic.

* Then there is the perhaps somewhat petty issue of style. However, since Hitchens fancies himself a bit of a stylist, I will stick a pin in him here too.
...making me almost feel sorry for them) that I now feel guilty for piling on.
I mean really, does he proofread before he publishes any more?

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Flag Pandering Wankers

A trophy photo being circulated among our glorious troops in Iraq.
No flag was burned to make this picture.

So the constitutional amendment banning flag desecration didn't pass, by a brave single vote. Still, virtually all of the opponents felt compelled to kowtow before the idol of patriotism and denounce flag-burning in the most stringent, and vague and incoherent of ways.

Atrios: The narrow issue of "flag desecration," while troubling and stupid,...

Joe Conason: While nobody enjoys watching some idiot burn the flag, this has become a rare spectacle over the past two decades.

Jonathan Alter:
... the random idiots who once every decade or so try (often unsuccessfully) to burn a flag.

The New Yorker: Still, almost all Americans, whatever their religious beliefs or lack thereof, would probably agree that both the flag and the Constitution have a certain sacred character.

No reason need be given for these sweeping generalizations because no reason is involved in the judgments. Just patriotic reflexes, as predictable as a wind-up toy.

So, there is no possible reason to burn a flag, even after Abu Ghraib, after Gitmo, after Haditha, after all the death we have rained on Iraq, and Afghanistan, and Vietnam, and by proxy in El Salvador, in Guatemala, in Nicaragua.

And what about centuries of slavery, and the genocide of Native America.

Oh, no burning a flag is a senseless overreaction to all these events that are so far past...I mean we have changed course haven't we....That wasn't us, that was someone else...I mean everyone acknowledges the atrocities we committed, don't they...I mean why would anyone, except for "random idiots" and "stupid" people think we needed to be reminded of our occasional lapses from perfect virtue.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Sympathy for the devil

Sympathy for the Devil--Laibach gives it all the proper gravitas.

But my i-pod is my friend

Study: 25% of Americans have no one to confide in
By Janet Kornblum, USA TODAY
Updated 6/22/2006

Americans have a third fewer close friends and confidants than just two decades ago — a sign that people may be living lonelier, more isolated lives than in the past.

In 1985, the average American had three people in whom to confide matters that were important to them, says a study in today's American Sociological Review. In 2004, that number dropped to two, and one in four had no close confidants at all.

"You usually don't see that kind of big social change in a couple of decades," says study co-author Lynn Smith-Lovin, professor of sociology at Duke University in Durham, N.C.

Close relationships are a safety net, she says. "Whether it's picking up a child or finding someone to help you out of the city in a hurricane, these are people we depend on."

Also, research has linked social isolation and loneliness to mental and physical illness.

The study finds fewer contacts are from clubs and neighbors; people are relying more on family, a phenomenon documented in the 2000 book Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam, a Harvard public policy professor.

The percentage of people who confide only in family increased from 57% to 80%, and the number who depend totally on a spouse is up from 5% to 9%, the study found. "If something happens to that spouse or partner, you may have lost your safety net," Smith-Lovin says.

The study is based on surveys of 1,531 people in 1985 and 1,467 in 2004, part of the General Social Survey by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago.

Not everyone sees such a dire picture. People still have other friends, sociologist Barry Wellman of the University of Toronto says. "We have a lot of ties that aren't super strong but are still pretty important." [what a consolation]

Why people have fewer close friends is unclear, Putnam says. "This is a mystery like Murder on the Orient Express, in which there are multiple culprits."

The chief suspects: More people live in the suburbs and spend more time at work, Putnam says, leaving less time to socialize or join groups.

Also, people have more entertainment tools such as TV, iPods and computers, so they can stay home and tune out. But some new trends, such as online social networking, may help counter the effect, he says.

What a sad commentary on the failure of capitalist society. Property before community.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Failures of the capitalist imagination

Some things just can't be fixed though advertising. Newsweek has a story about the creation of a $1 million PSA to discourage suicide bombing.

This Is Your Street Mid-Bombing
A Hollywood-budget public service announcement aims at discouraging suicide attacks in Iraq and elsewhere.

"We all watch it on the evening news," says 900 Frames partner Drew Plotkin, "but we're using a 120-camera set up that was used in films like 'The Matrix.' It gives a frozen-in-time feeling. Instead of seeing a flash and ambulances racing to the scene, we're showing the street right before the attack, during and right after. That will communicate the horror, the carnage, the human toll these attacks take on innocent civilians..."
I think people in Iraq are already all too familiar with "the horror, the carnage, the human toll." I mean, how clueless can you get. They don't need television to tell them that there is a war on.

But I guess it's not really real unless it is on TV.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Last Throes

Cheney Reasserts That Iraqi Insurgency Entered Its ‘Last Throes' in May 2005

William Shatner goes to hell

All the best parts of a very bad movie. But the cast--Ernest Borgnine, Eddie Albert, Ida Lupino, John Travolta and William Shatner. And the pathos. And did I mention devils! William Shatner goes to hell!

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Underground Radio

Radio Venceremos and Radio Farabundo Marti from back in the day. More videos on related topics here.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Spelunking to Afghanistan

GYWO asks, what's happening in Afghanistan?

From today's Cursor:
As "Operation Mountain Thrust" debuts in southern Afghanistan, where command is being transferred to NATO, one observer is told "the beleaguered Donald Rumsfeld is desperate to bring some American troops home by November's congressional elections." Plus: "Every rocket was a painkiller."

Wednesday, June 14, 2006


Wargasm wargasm one, two, three
Tie a yellow ribbon around the amputee
Masturbate watch it on TV
Crocodile tears for the refugee

Wargasm wargasm one, two, three
Smutty bloody pictures, ecstasy
Blue balls waiting impatiently
From Alcatraz to Lady Liberty

Body bags and dropping bombs,
The pentagon knows how to turn us on
Wargasm wargasm one, two, three
Pit bull pit bull ecstasy
Wave those flags high in the air
As long as it takes place over there
Wargasm -- L7
Abu Ghraib was just a taste. There is increasing evidence coming from all quarters that the sexual sadism of empire has spread throughout the troops and their cheerleaders back in the U.S.

Consider the proliferation of war trophy photographs, discussed and documented in an excellent but extremely disturbing article by David Swanson. What are we to infer about the psychology of the soldiers who collect these kinds of mementos of the pleasures of total domination? Or make music videos like this? Or play soccer with the heads of decapitated Iraqis. Remember, someday these soldiers are coming back home.

Already, now that the initial shock of Abu Ghraib has worn off, torture is fast becoming an integral part of the civilian imagination. It is not just the intellectual attempts to rehabilitate torture as a distasteful necessity in the clash of civilizations. It is not just Ilsa the she wolf of the Aryan right scanning the horizon for the most extreme possibilities. The popularity of shows like 24 and The Shield are evidence that a lot of people are acquiring a taste for increasingly explicit visions of torture and murder.

And, despite continuing coyness about showing the slightest sign of dead or wounded Americans, a pornographic delight in seeing ever more graphic images of murdered enemies has now spread to the front pages of every newspaper in the country, Some examples more egregious than others.

This image of the bloody head of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was meant to be savored. But it wasn't enough to sate the jaded appetite some on the right. The ghoulish Michelle Malkin, for example, is circulating a music video of the assassination, which is quite literally a wargasm reveling in the murder and taunting liberals for their failure to dance with sufficient enthusiasm on his corpse.

The guilty pleasures of war are all coming home.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

The menace of married gay flagburners

'Secret DOJ Memo Explains Why the Flag Burning Amendment is Unnecessary'

Under the theory of the Unitary Executive underlying Article II of the United States Constitution, the President of the United States, as Commander-in-Chief-of-everything-under-the-sun, has plenary and unreviewable authority to detain, try, punish and execute enemy combatants. Persons who trample on, deface, or destroy the flag of the United States symbolically attack the country and the principles for which it stands, which include, among other things, the principle of the plenary and unreviewable authority of the Unitary Executive. Therefore the President, as head of the Unitary Executive, has plenary and unreviewable authority to detain, punish and execute any and all persons who desecrate the American flag, regardless of any laws or treaties to the contrary...

Recommended: Jello Biafra's latest Alternative Tentacles "batcast" features some songs from I Object, a great angry and political punk band.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

No sense of irony

From today's New York Times:
President Bush urged immigrants on Wednesday to learn English and history and civics with the goal of "helping us remain one nation under God."
Leaving aside the fact that Bush has yet to master his native language--Chomsky thinks he's faking, I don't--and is famed for his lack of intellectual curiosity, this is a man who cheated his way into the presidency twice by appealing to the basest fears and loathings of the American people--admittedly an inexhaustible well--and thus has little room to be lecturing anyone about civics. And to top it off the signature tactic of his administration has been using god as a club to enforce ideological conformity, all the while destroying the future of this country and many others for the benefit of an oh so unworthy few. "One nation under god" is not a statement of faith--it's a thinly veiled threat.

Of all the criminals and murderers who ever crossed the border illegally and never learned English, who among them could equal the record of murder, torture, hatred and destruction of our commander in chief?

See also Brian Leiter's When Politicians Unintentionally and Ironically Speak the Truth.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Belching Souls

Demon Seed

The spawn of hybrid life form Brangelina recieved a blessing in the mostly Orthodox West Bank town of Shiloh, after which it was named. The celebrity family is currently residing in the small African nation of Namibia, which they have taken over so they could share the high security special experience of childbirth together. Rumors that the child is guarded by a heretofore unknown breed of hyenas could not be confirmed.

However, the 'celebrity colonialism' which they are pioneering in Namibia, is the subject of an eye-opening article in Spiked. Here is a snippet of that amazing tale:
Pitt and Jolie went to Namibia, a small and largely impoverished nation of 1.8 million, six weeks ago. Their daughter - Shiloh Nouvel - was born on Saturday night. As they awaited the birth they reportedly surrounded themselves with their own personal security detail and armed Namibian police. According to the Independent there was even a no-fly zone, enforced by the Namibian government, over the luxurious Burning Shore beach resort where Pitt and Jolie were holed up.

Apparently, the stars also got to dictate which reporters could and could not enter the country. According to one report, the Namibian government ‘bowed to pressure from the duo and granted them the right to ban foreign journalists from entering the country - a remarkable move for the government of any sovereign state’. The government is said to have granted this extraordinary veto to Brad and Angelina after the couple told ministers that they would be ‘forced to quit the country unless allegedly intrusive journalists and paparazzi were brought to heel.’ Namibian ministers hope that a trip by two Hollywood bigwigs to their shores will do wonders for their tourism industry, and thus have done everything they can to keep the couple happy .

All this is no doubt in keeping with the ideological purity of the couple, who are both devotees of Ayn Rand and are rumored to be involved in a remake of "Atlas Shrugged" to be directed by Oliver Stone.

On objectivity

This fits in just right with the article I took apart in the previous post.

JON STEWART: Here's what puzzles me most, Rob. John Kerry's record in Vietnam is pretty much right there in the official records of the US military, and haven't been disputed for 35 years?

ROB CORDDRY: That's right, Jon, and that's certainly the spin you'll be hearing coming from the Kerry campaign over the next few days.

STEWART: Th-that's not a spin thing, that's a fact. That's established.

CORDDRY: Exactly, Jon, and that established, incontrovertible fact is one side of the story.

STEWART: But that should be -- isn't that the end of the story? I mean, you've seen the records, haven't you? What's your opinion?

CORDDRY: I'm sorry, my *opinion*? No, I don't have 'o-pin-i-ons'. I'm a reporter, Jon, and my job is to spend half the time repeating what one side says, and half the time repeating the other. Little thing called 'objectivity' -- might wanna look it up some day.

STEWART: Doesn't objectivity mean objectively weighing the evidence, and calling out what's credible and what isn't?

CORDDRY: Whoa-ho! Well, well, well -- sounds like someone wants the media to act as a filter! [high-pitched, effeminate] 'Ooh, this allegation is spurious! Upon investigation this claim lacks any basis in reality! Mmm, mmm, mmm.' Listen buddy: not my job to stand between the people talking to me and the people listening to me.

—The Daily Show, Comedy Central, August 23, 2004

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Propaganda about "docu-ganda"

The Christian Science Monitor has published an impressively blatant piece of propaganda attacking films like "An Inconvenient Truth" as "docu-ganda."

The term "docu-ganda" itself is introduced as if it were an objective description. It implies without argument that the point of view presented in the film is false and deceptive. However, neither the point of view nor any of the evidence presented in any of the films is directly challenged, and not a shred of counter-evidence is presented. The opposing point of view is not even named.

In the case of "An Inconvenient Truth" the other side would be that of the global warming skeptics, Exxon and it's allies. In the case of "Super Size Me" it would be a defense of the health value of fast food. Hmm.

All deliver on the promise to tell an "untold" story, but is theirs the full story? Or even the true story?

Don't count on it, say media experts. The days when "documentary" reliably meant "inform the audience" - rather than "influence the audience" - are no more. The makers of such films today see their cinematic contributions as an antidote to media consolidation that, they say, restricts topics and voices to the bland and the commercial. As such, they feel little or no obligation to heed documentary-film traditions like point-by-point rebuttal or formal reality checks.

No examples of films that allegedly restricted themselves to informing the audience are cited. All the films critiqued are from the left.

"We need to clarify that this new wave of 'documentaries' are not, in fact, documentaries," says Christopher Ian Bennett of New School Media, a communications and public-relations firm in Vancouver. "They fail to meet the Oxford Dictionary definition, in that they editorialize, and opine far too much. They are entertaining.... But they can be dangerous if viewers take everything they are saying as the whole truth."

The expert here is someone who works for a PR firm? Yes, the title of his firm makes it sound like he is an academic film critic, but that is no university. His background is quite amusing: he handled "North American PR for one of the fastest growing brands in North America, 1-800-GOT-JUNK." An auspicious start for a documentary critic. And apparently this expert also has some trouble reading the dictionary he cites. Here in fact is the OED definition of documentary.

Documentaries are films or TV programmes concerned with fact: they depict real people events or landscapes. The documentary film as social comment emerged most strongly in the 1930s, notably in Britain with the work of John Grierson. Such films were used as propaganda by both sides in the Second World War, but after the war their production sharply declined until the growth of television provided a new outlet.
Oops. So documentaries as social comment are in fact documentaries according to the OED, and they were not invented by Michael Moore.

The only other named critic in the article is "Matt Felling of the nonpartisan Center for Media and Public Affairs in Washington, which studies news and entertainment media." However, Source Watch points out that the CMPA is a right wing think tank which gets all of its funding from conservative foundations. Source Watch's profile of the company includes a revealing quote from Matt Felling about "Fahrenheit 9/11" that nicely illustrates his lack of objectivity.
"Of course, this movie is going to be Michael Moore's version of what he thinks President Bush is up to and what he thinks his capabilities are," he said. "We already know that he does not think that he is really cut out for the job. So Michael Moore will pick out everything he can to support that argument and we can only hope that Americans are well-versed enough in the successes of the Bush administration that they can balance it out on their own."
So that's what's meant by "nonpartisan."

This article is of a piece with all sorts of other reporting from the right which attempts to use an appeal to a misplaced sense of fair play--most notably in the "debate" over creationism--to disguise the weakness of their own position.