Monday, November 29, 2004
Sunday, November 21, 2004
The DNA of Cultural Improvement
The NEA could buy: cultural DNA. The NEA could plausibly do, on a larger scale, what it has done with the Paris Review. Pay to have culture set free.
Basically, he suggests that the NEA should aquire from the Library of Congress all the cultural material that has come out into the public domain and purchase from the rightful copyright owners the rights to a lot of other cheap material that is financially unsuccessful but culturally important and provide it free on line. John Halbo got the idea from the Paris Review's DNA of Literature project, a huge collection of interviews with more than 300 20th century authors that has just been posted.
The BBC Archives are doing something along this line and I think it's a fabulous idea. It would provide a way for the NEA to do something practical that would at the very least take steps to curb some of the more egregious problems pointed out in the Reading at Risk report.
The only problem I see, is that the NEA library is woefully understaffed and underfunded. I've visited the NEA Library and interviewed the sole librarian there. They have no electronic database in place yet and no manpower to put one there. Their budget has not increased one cent in at least five years.
To follow his suggestion would require the NEA to quadruple (if not multiply by a factor of ten) it's library holdings and staff. That does not come cheep, especially in an era when library staff and budgets are being cut. Staffing alone would cost half a million, and add into that a new library building and electronic database, IT support and the whole library infrastructure and your talking about a price tag in the tens of millions. Pocket change when compared to the Defense Budget but outlandish when looked at as a flat budget increase for, of all things, the NEA.
An idea like this would have been feasible under President Gore or President Kerry but since Congress just approved the purchase of a new yacht for Bush, I think we all know that this administration's goals are not in the realm of making cultural DNA available to all. Still, it's an idea to keep under our hat and bring out when Blue America succeeds and we finally have the breathing room to enact progressive changes, without having to worry about appeasing skittish soccer moms and other assorted mouthbreathers in Red America.
When Scientists Were Pirates
The historicity of these books is borderline alarming. Stephenson has researched so many goddamned interesting factoids about pirates, the birth off the monetary system, natural philosophy, alchemy, the court of the Sun King, the functioning of London's ancient prisons, the nature of sewage disposal in early metropolises, and many other diverse subjects that you can practically open the books to any page and find five cool trivia questions to baffle your friends with on e.g. long plane trips.
I'm about 250 pages through the first volume, Quicksilver and am looking forward to one day reading the whole trilogy, once Grad School is done and I can devote the time needed to fully emerse myself in these books. 2700 pages is a lot and each one is densely packed with information but they are worth the time and effort, especially if you have even a passing interest in the history of science. The Baroque Cycle is the Geek Ulysses, only unlike Ulysses, it's actually fun to read.
Saturday, November 20, 2004
Your Fun Saturday Evening Thought
Bin Laden and his Al Quieda network plant loyal Jihadists in undercover positions in Iraq, Iran, Syria, Jordan, Egypt and all over the Middle East where they will have the ear of some American Intel gatherers. They feed bad intel to these Americans, knowing full well that they our leaders are eager for an excuse, any excuse at all to invade a country. It's subtle. It's devious. And it serves their purposes: Why do they have to kill themselves blowing up cars and crashing airplanes when they can get us to invade whatever country they want us to, piss off everybody, thus swelling their ranks?
I'm not saying this is the case. Such conspiracy theories work well in silly movies and spy novels. But if I've thought of this, then perhaps Someone else has as well. But we have to ask ourselves, why?
What do they get out of pissing off everyone and sharply dividing the world into Us vs. Them? Simple. They get the Clash of Civilizations both sides, Neocon and Jihadist, so desperately wants.
Friday, November 19, 2004
Why Georgie Won't Read
Frankly, my first impression, back in July, when I first heard about this, was to dismiss it outright. We're bombarded by these idiotic Government Studies all the time (hello, Mr. Starr Report, how are you today?) and they typically turn out to be porno fantasies wrapped in Beaurou speak and all tied up in a frantic little bows. After attending the panel discussion, I've amended this attitude somewhat. I still think the research is flawed, but they make a fair point just the same. This messy contradiction of views is probably why you haven't heard much about the Report, as it's not exactly something that can easily be digested into cute little soundbites for the mouthbreathers watching Fox News. Which, is part of the problem.
The major flaw in this study is that the term Literary Reading is not very well defined, and this is done on purpose. They don't want to mess around in the age old argument over what "is" Literature and so leave it open for interpretation. They do give the usual examples: Novels, short stories, poems, plays, magazines, etc. and it's in this etc. that we run into problems. For some reason, they define attending plays and opera as reading, but leave out comic books and Graphic Novels. The rep from the NEA gave the standard biased disclaimer, that if you think a Graphic Novel is a literary work, you'll take this into consideration when answering the question. And sure, Operas are often in French, Italian or German and involve a lot of reading of subtitles but so do foreign movies. One of the panelists brought this point up and suggested that we should include movie watching as reading if we're going to include plays (because honestly, how many people read Angels in America when you could have watched it on HBO?). While we were all rolling that little gem around in our heads, he went on to suggest that we should include New Media, like Blogs, which I agreed with, and video games, which I thought was the dumbest thing I'd heard in three Tuesdays.
So am I a snob? Reading Blogs is literary but engaging in vast, interactive online role playing is not? Yeah. I am a snob. Because playing role playing games and watching TV isn't fucking reading! It may be creative. It may be entertaining. But playing Grand Theft Auto, San Andreas does not rank on the same level as watching Kenneth Branagh's production of Hamlet or reading The Handmaid's Tale. Hell, it doesn't even rank as high as reading some drek by Stephen King and watching Baz Luhrmann's Romeo and Juliet!
So yes, people are reading less, watching TV and playing video games more and we're the worse for it. Because, as the poet on the panel meekly stated, an ill informed citizenry makes for something less than Democracy. But it's not like the NEA really has any suggestions on how to fix this problem. Not that I or anyone should expect them to. They're a government agency. They just wring their hands and cluck their tongues and hope that they won't have their budget cut by President Kill Again just so we can afford to build one more bomb to drop on Iran.
Short of a revolutionary idea like putting the money we spend on making war into education instead, there won't be a reversal of this trend in reading-- critical, entertaining or otherwise, any time soon. And I wouldn't hold my breath expecting the GOP to do anything about it either. They may not have invented the idea of staying in power by keeping people dumb, afraid and uninformed but they sure have exploited it in the most savvy manner.
Update: John Halbo over at Crooked Timber has a great post that starts where I leave off and goes in a far more positive direction, challenging your word power and knowledge of comic books. Well worth the read.
Wednesday, November 17, 2004
Quote of the Day
"As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron."
-- H.L. Mencken, July 26, 1920, in The Evening Sun
Thanks to my lovely wife, Elvira
Only Outlaws will Make Music
Download A Night at the Hip Hopera by the Kleptones at Klepshimi's mp3 blog.
Read the rest of the story at (and find alternative links) at Boing Boing
1. How weird is that?
Tuesday, November 16, 2004
Writerly Output Unhalted by Death
Mortality has proved only a partial impediment to the romantic fiction industry built up by Dame Barbara Cartland during her 99-year life. Four years after her death, two new Cartland novels trickled on to the market yesterday. And there are 158 more to come, at the rate of one a month - enough to satisfy her admirers for about 13 years.
I wish I could write a novel every 18 days. No, wait. I don't. I'll settle for spending four years on one and I promise, no "Love" in the title and no romance, which is probably why it's taking so long. That and Grad School. Everything is Grad School's fault.
Supporting the Troops for Real
The number ONE request at Walter Reed hospital is phone cards. Because the priority of our government is to continue tax cuts for the likes of Paris Hilton, the government doesn't pay LD phone charges and these guys, many of them amputees, are rationing their calls home.Pass it on.
Many will be there throughout the holidays.
Remember that most are from poor families. It is disgusting that they cannot keep in touch with family after what they have been asked to sacrifice for BushCo; especially this time of year.Support the troops-cuz BushCo doesn't. Send phone cards of any amount to:Medical Family Assistance Center
Walter Reed Medical Center
6900 Georgia Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20307-5001
They say they need an "endless" supply of these-any amount even $5 is greatly appreciated.
Saturday, November 13, 2004
Wednesday, November 10, 2004
Hitting the Center of the Target
WASHINGTON, DC- The economically disadvantaged segment of the U.S. population provided the decisive factor in another presidential election last Tuesday, handing control of the government to the rich and powerful once again.Thanks to Jenny for the link.
"The Republican party- the party of industrial mega-capitalists, corporate financiers, power brokers, and the moneyed elite—would like to thank the undereducated rural poor, the struggling blue-collar workers in Middle America, and the God-fearing underpriviledged minorities who voted George W. Bush back into office," Karl Rove, senior advisor to Bush, told reporters at a press conference Monday. "You have selflessly sacrificed your well-being and voted against your own economic interest. For this, we humbly thank you." Added Rove: "You have acted beyond the call of duty- or, for that matter, good sense."
Tuesday, November 09, 2004
It's Somebody's Birthday!
Monday, November 08, 2004
Movies They'll Never Make
It's sad really how far James Bond has fallen in recent years. He used to be a drinking, smoking, cruelly womanizing hero and we loved him for it. But he's quit smoking, drinks only to ease the pain of his existential loneliness and feels remorse when the latest babe he's banging dies. Frankly, the soft and cuddly feminized Bond sucks. I want my misogynist back!
The threat of Global terrorism and corporate hegemony is really lame as Super villains go. Remember back in the good old days of the late fifties, early sixties when the Red Russians were hiding nukes under poodle skirts and maniacal geniuses demanded outlandish sums of money, lest total world annihilation ensue? Me neither, but they made for some fantastic plots, full of super cool gizmos and lots of hip fun. In order to see James Bond return to his roots, we have to go back in time. I want to see a James Bond Period Movie. One set in the Cold War days of the fifties, with all the Commies and Beatniks Hollywood can muster.
The plot: A mad genius by the name of Bluto Fang has kidnapped the controversial Psychotherapist, Wilhelm Reich and is forcing the beleaguered Doctor to build a giant Cloudbuster Weather control device. He is holding the world hostage, lest he set the device off and create a new Ice Age. Bond must infiltrate Fang's base and either rescue or kill the Doctor to save humanity.
It's just that simple. That's how the plot's of a good spy thriller should be, with twists and turns and reversals along the way, mostly invovling several women with little to no clothes and even fewer morals as well as an exotic henchman with a gimmick thrown in for good measure. Most important in a retro movie is the quasi-futuristic details: lasers, henchmen in weird uniforms, secret headquarters designed by Le Corbusier and fast British cars. It'd be beautiful, in ways no movie has been in a long time.
Dispatches From Iraq
Sunday, November 07, 2004
The thing is, I get that kid. If I weren't a little older and bit more level headed, I could be that kid. The world is just so fucked up right now and the US is acting like the lead lemur. But I don't want to be that kid because it won't change things.
So, for a while at least, I'm taking a break from the politics. This may cost me some readers but I don't care. I need to not be plugged in for a while. So for the next few weeks, it's just going to be posts like the one below, books, movies, cultural ramblings and thoughts on life. So, prepare for navel gazing.
Thoughts From My Wishlist
Friday, November 05, 2004
The Answer We've All Been Looking For
MY MODEST PROPOSAL: THE U.S.A.R.
By C. B. Shapiro
Personally, I think we made a huge mistake not letting them go when we had the chance back in 1862. Well, no time like the present to correct an old mistake.
Then, they would finally be free to have the kind of society they've always wanted; church and state can be fused so they build the kind of theocracy they've dreamt of, with Jesus at the helm. Then the new USAR (United States of America Red) can ban books, repeal civil rights, persecute gays and have all the wars they like. They want prayer in schools? More power to them. They can ban abortion and post the Ten Commandments in every federal building in their country. Bring back slavery, if they want. We'll be free to live with our like-minded countrymen who believe in science, modernism, tolerance, religion as a personal choice, and truly want limited government intrusion in our personal lives. Why should each side be driven mad by the other any more, decade after decade?
Call the Culture War a tie and everyone go home.
Of course, we in the U.S.A.B. get the Gross Domestic Product, businesses and universities of California, New York, Massachussetts -- basically the whole Northeast and Northwest (plus Illinois and Michigan if they want to come along). They get Wal-Mart and Duke and most of the Nascar tracks. But they can feel free to import movies, TV shows, financial services, and defense technology. We'll import country music, bibles and Confederate flags.
Thursday, November 04, 2004
Beneath the Glittering City on the Hill
To cheer me up, my friend Evviva sent me this article from the Asia Times:
China is rising, economically, diplomatically and militarily, to threaten a displacement of the United States as the dominant power in Southeast Asia. Europe is increasingly choosing the course of independence from the US: it currently rivals US gross domestic product (GDP) and is making joint economic and strategic diplomatic agreements with US competitors Russia, China, India, Iran and others, while the US looks on warily.
South Korea is increasingly irritated with the US military presence and diplomatic posture on the Peninsula and is looking ahead to a settlement of the Korean crisis that could significantly lessen, if not eliminate, US presence and influence. Japan likewise is displaying increasing irritation with the US diplomatic posture and military presence in the region and is moving rapidly in the direction of remilitarization, independence and self-assertion, making its own energy-security deals with Iran and Russia over US objections. Taiwan is also becoming more assertive, risking a conflagration with China, and obliging the US to make diplomatic moves toward China, away from longtime ally Taiwan, in an effort to avoid the conflagration, in which the US would most likely be the prime geopolitical loser.
Russia, in the face of proliferating US military presence throughout the traditional Russian sphere of influence, is becoming much more assertive, charting a course often directly opposed to the US. Russia is making strategic economic (oil/gas) agreements and conducting weapons sales in every strategic region of the world, while the US looks on guardedly at Russian political and diplomatic influence on the rise.
The majority of the oil states of the Middle East have adopted a decidedly anti-American stance in the aftermath of the Iraq invasion, and consequently, US influence in the region is suffering a very significant setback. In the past year collective international opposition to the US has been consolidating at the United Nations and within its Security Council, marginalizing and isolating the US internationally. The continuing trends are mostly against the US and are even picking up steam in that direction.
In the face of all these regional and global developments, can the United States maintain its current position of global dominance?
Given the rate that Americans are outsourcing jobs to other countries, undermining education, replacing science with fairy tales, stifling research by foreign nationals in our country and outlawing the importation of foreign research, it's a wonder our country hasn't become a second rate tourist trap. But we're just passing the nadir of Empire, not yet into the downward spiral. Just wait four years, though and the US will be a full blown Banana republic, importing all its critical services and exporting only tchotchkas and bad movies.
Then what will the world look like? It's always hard to predict the future and given my stellar record of prediction this week, I'm not feeling comfortable making anay concrete statements. One thing I am certain of, is that by the middle of the century, the US will bare more resemblance to the shanty town at the bottom of the hill, rather than the glittering city on top of it. And what will we have to blame for our woes? Eight years (at minimum) of Voodoo Economics dressed up like a Rober Baron, swaggering in its snake skin boots and smoking cheep cigars. I'm talking about The Ownership Society. This was the newfangled bit of PR that the GOP unveiled at the convention this year. But what exactly is it? No one seems to know. But if you ask any Konservative Koolaide Drinker, they'll blather on about how it's going to save the economy, and make us all (and by us all, I mean, upper class white males who already have an investment in the power infrastructure) rich! You may even be dazzled by the prospect of owning your very own genuine piece of Society. In fact, most Americans seem to have been so dazzled by the rhetoric, that they never noticed that no one ever really defined what the bloody blue hell this Ownership Society really is. That is, of course, on purpose. The Republicans don't want you to look too closely, because what Bush means when he says "Ownership Society" is really Anarcho-Capitalism:
...a view that regards all forms of the state as unnecessary and harmful, particularly in matters of justice and self-defense, while being highly supportive of private property. It synthesizes certain ideas from the tradition of classical liberalism (see libertarianism) and arguably from individualist anarchism as well. It opposes "traditional" anarchism on the issue of private property; while anarchists such as libertarian socialists and individualist anarchists reject all property beyond personal possessions as a form of authority, anarcho-capitalism embraces the established forms of property as an element of liberty.
Anarcho-capitalists promote individual property rights and free markets (in the sense of freedom from government interference) as the most just and effective way to organize all services.
So the next time you hear Bush or some pointy headed Think Tanker blathering on about the Ownership Society, keep in mind, what they're saying is, "We own your body and your job and we'll send either wherever it makes us the most money, be that to a tech services facility in India or a bunker in Iran."
And it will make them money, for a time. But ultimately, once the means of production have all been moved overseas, the US will be at the mercy of every other country in the world, who sells us our shit. Once they realise this (and, according to the Asia Times article, they already have) they'll figure out that we'll have to play by their rules. Because, however wrong Marx was about everything else, he was right about one thing: whomever controls the means of production, controls the world. And if the factories are in Singapore, India and Bangladesh, it doesn't matter where the CEO sits. Because as long as it isn't in the same room as the machinery that he feeds on, he'll be starving, real quick.
Welcome to the new world, folks. Better start learning Chinese.
Wednesday, November 03, 2004
Stating the Obvious
You let us down, John Kerry. You promised that all the votes would count, and all the votes would be counted. But after only twelve hours, you've conceded the election. You have ten more days, guaranteed by law, to count all the ballots. And you threw them away. Well, I guess it's a good thing, as my friend Jenny pointed out this afternoon, that we learned this about you before you became our president: that you have no spine. That you and your Democratic buddies really are just a bunch of whiney liberals and you left your spleen back in Vietnam.
And however mad I am at Kerry and Edwards for being pansies and not fighting it out 'til the bitter last ballot was counted, I'm really pissed off at 50% of my fellow citizens. Way to go, idiots. Despite all signs pointing to Bush as a miserable failure, an incompetent Machiavellian and the Worst President Ever, you took that taste of fascism he fed you over the last four years, said, "Gee, I like the smell of that!" and heaped four more years of that foul shit on your plate. TBogg sums it up nicely:
Four more years of American soldiers being used as cannon fodder.
Four more years of scientific decisions being made by people who believe in a ghost in the clouds.
Four more years of debt that our children and grandchildren will have to pay off.
Four more years of racists and lunatics for judicial appointments
Four more years of looting the treasury and squandering it on corporate cronies.
Four more years of making enemies faster than we can kill them.
Four more years of fear and darkness and racism and hatred and stupidity and guns and bad country music.
Especially the bad country music. Everything bad and wrong with America can be found in bad country music: homophobia, jingoism, fear and pride in one's own ignorance. It's all there. And it's all in the White House for four more years.
Because now, we've legitimately elected that baboon, so we can't explain it all away by saying he cheated his way in. It was a bloodless coupe, I swear. Won't happen again. This excuse won't fly anymore. No one will believe us. We can't say any longer that we didn't know what he'd do. We know full well and gave him a blank check to double it.
I hope you motherfuckers are happy.
Tuesday, November 02, 2004
But if Zogby's wrong, and say, the Electoral Vote Predictor is right (Kerry 262, Bush 261) then we have another three months of litigious dingbats and chad counting to endure. And I just don't think I can handle that.
Updated 11/04: most of the above is now meaningless and probably always was.
Ring the Bell! Time to Vote!
I'm here with the good news, people. William Gibson brings to our attention the fact that Existing Polling Methodology is pre-cellular. What this means is, all those phone polls that for the last month have had this race at a dead heat were made on land lines, calling old folks like my Grandma. They never bothered to do a strictly cellular based poll, which would include a large majority of young voters (18-21) who don't have landlines and probably never will. They are only available by Cell.
Well, John Zogby wised up. He did a cellular based poll and let me tell you folks, it wasn't even close: Kerry over Bush, 55 to 40%
Add this to the letter that Mr. Gibson posted from a young black man writing to Salon.com and you have a bigger picture of this election . It's like we've been looking at the whole thing through a keyhole, only seeing a narrow view of a much wider scenario. Open the door and walk inside and what we have is a lot more young people and minorities voting this time around. They are concerned about the Draft, the job market, the war, the anti-gay amendment2. And they're turning out to vote in record numbers.
So take heart. This election isn't the dead heat we've been sold. The Republicans are desperate. Their attempts at voter fraud have been clumsy and we saw them coming. So finish your coffee and get to the polls! We have an election to win.
1. As of 9:00 AM EST, it reads Kerry at 298 vs. Bush at 231. Peace.
2. the young'ens especially. They have gay friends and family and don't pretend that they're just "bachelors" and "spinsters" who haven't found the right somebody yet.
Monday, November 01, 2004
The Vote Looms
So, to all the undecided voters out there I say: What the fuck are you waiting for? It's November One already and it's not like there's anything new out there. These guys didn't sneak up on us and spring this whole election in the middle of the night. They've been beating the stump for months. Throwing swift boat vets and wolves and ostriches with their heads in the sand and more mud than a Mississippi slug farmer to get us to take note and pay attention to them, to the world to anything that will wake us up and pay attention. (True, Bush never wanted us to pay attention to the right things, but at least he vied for our attention, unlike Nader, who just stood in the background and waged his finger about how naughty we all are).
Pay attention you sleepy undecided! Bush wants to kill your puppy. He wants to feed your grandma to the lions and force your baby sister to suck him off while Dick Cheney fiddles a jig. It may be difficult sometimes to tell exactly what Kerry wants to be, besides your President. But Bush wants to be your Dictator and he'll tell you whatever stupid lies you want to hear to get there. So, tomorrow, vote for John Kerry and John Edwards. Do whatever rationalizing and cognitive gymnastics you have to, but please, vote for Kerry! Tell the world that you may be fat, uninformed and obsessed with the sexual habits of skinny debutantes, but at least you have the sense nature gave a lemming not to run too quickly towards the cliff edge.
For a more reasonable reason to vote for Kerry, read what Mustang Bobby has to say.
For an inspiring reason to vote for Kerry, read what Ezra Klein has to say.