Saturday, May 09, 2009

It Might Lead To Dancing

I saw this and I thought it too good not to highlight:
A student at a fundamentalist Baptist school that forbids dancing, rock music, hand-holding and kissing will be suspended if he takes his girlfriend to her public high school prom, his principal said.

Despite the warning, 17-year-old Tyler Frost, who has never been to a dance before, said he plans to attend Findlay High School's prom Saturday.

In honor (and you knew it was coming, didn't you . . .):

"There's no redemption where I'm going"

I saw X-Men Origins: Wolverine last night, and I really don't understand all the people who say it's bad. In fact, it is far better in many respects than any of the previous X-Men movies for one simple reason - it doesn't pretend to be anything more than it is, a fun, action-packed movie with a lot of people beating up other people, some funny one-liners ("It's OK! There are dead people in here!"), without the phony final victory that really isn't final because the sequel is coming (Stryker should have been made to eat that bullet, but that's just me).

Part of the problem, to my non-comic-fan mind, is that all these comic book fans actually believe there is something deep about the genre. No. Whether it's X-Men or Spiderman, or Batman, they are nothing more than ways for teenage boys to feel a vicarious thrill of identity, a way to take solace in their own sense of difference, and silently celebrate their own superiority over their "normal" peers. Like science fiction, comics return to the same themes again and again in ways that are destined to appeal to their primary target audience - adolescent males who feel estranged in one way or another from their peer groups.

The Wolverine film has the added benefit of an actual adult theme. Unlike the heavy-handed and repetitive "war between mutants and humans" of the first three movies (and why is it the humans always seem to need mutants to protect them from other mutants? Shouldn't this be a clue as to what is really going on?), the theme here is really quite simple - identity, including moral identity, is not identical with genetic predisposition. Unlike his half-brother Victor Creed, James Logan learns that, at some point, killing for the sake of killing is not who he is. His first taste comes in Vietnam, where he simultaneously fights his brother, and defends him against others. In Nigeria, the order to destroy a village becomes the breaking point.

Now, the nice thing about this theme - about the possibility of moral growth - is that, while it is there, you can leave it and just enjoy the movie for its good, old-fashioned fun. Yet, the line that is the title of this post comes as Logan is seeking revenge for what he believes is the murder of his lover. He sees revenge as unredemptive; yet, in the end, his revenge is both thwarted and voluntarily rejected, and so there is, in fact, redemption of a curiously Christian kind. In the Psalms, it is said that when God forgives, sin is removed from both us and God as far as east is from the west, and God no longer brings it to mind. Wolverine's inflicted amnesia is redemptive in that sense; as he starts down the road that will lead him to Charles Xavier, he is a tabula rasa, yet the morally complex character we meet in the first X-Men movie is already established. He has absorbed the lessons so deeply in to his psyche that no amount of amnesia can remove them.

So, I enjoyed the movie. I thought it did what it was supposed to do quite well. Unlike Yglesias, I think establishing Logan's backstory is important, and this cinematic version isn't the same as the comic version because, well, it isn't a comic book, but a film.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

What I Take Seriously

It would be nice if someone would explain to Marshall Art that I might actually get upset by someone who argues the current Republican line, i.e., that we have never tortured but the bastards had it coming. Repeatedly. It might shock him back to reality to realize that, while I do not take myself seriously at all - anyone who knows me in the real world would know that - I do take seriously attempts to defend the indefensible.

Arguing that it's all in good fun and we all need to lighten up is not only lame, it's a dodge, an attempt to deflect attention from morally vacuous nonsense. Besides that, if all we're about here is bullshitting one another all the time, we might as well collect stamps. I take what I do seriously. I take Marshall at his word, that he really believes what he writes. For that reason alone, I consider him beneath contempt.

More New Ideas

In their endless search for new ideas and a fresh approach, the Republicans are . . . using the fear card.
All else having failed to score decisive political points against Obama, the GOP is going back to the tried and true scare tactics that will be the historical hallmark of U.S. politics in the 2000s. And, yes, 9/11 is the cudgel once again.

Today, the House GOP leadership unveiled its "Keep Terrorists Out Of America Act" (clever, right?) to try to prevent the closing of Gitmo by barring the moving of detainees to facilities on the U.S. mainland.

Over the weekend, Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney, and . . . somebody else . . . had a "town hall" at a pizza parlor in Arlington, VA where they trotted out all the talking points the Republicans have been spouting for years, and were summarily rejected by voters in two - count 'em, two - national election cycles. The funniest part was Mitt Romney, a former governor who is the son of a former governor, sitting next to Jeb Bush, a former governor who is the son and brother of two former Presidents, calling the Democrats the party of monarchists. Are they even trying?

So, fresh out of new ideas, they hoist the bloody shirt in hopes that a terrorist attack eight years ago will frighten enough people to forget that George W. Bush never even came close to catching Osama bin Laden, and in the meantime drove our country in to the ground in so many ways it will take years to repair. Good luck on that one.

National Day of Prayer

Today is the National Day of Prayer. I have to say I really don't know what that means; such public piety has no place in a secular republic, and didn't Jesus tell us to pray in our closets where no one can see us? Oh, right that's the part of the Bible that doesn't mention killing gay folk . . .

Seriously, though this is just crazy-nuts-lying:
President Obama will sign a proclamation recognizing today as a National Day of Prayer (NDP). Notably, the President will not continue former George W. Bush’s practice of holding a “formal White House event.” In response, conservative commentators in recent days have been suggesting that Obama is in some way attempting to downplay the significance of the NDP — and faith in general.

Limbaugh went so far as to suggest that Obama was trying to “cancel” the NDP, while the National Day of Prayer Task Force issued a statement suggesting that Obama was departing from historical tradition.

So the President signs a proclamation recognizing the NDP, and the head of the Republican Party says he's canceling it.

Is it any wonder we crazy liberals say that the conservative world-view is topsy-turvy?

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

They Got Nothing

It doesn't really pain me at all to point out to my right-wing friends that, for all their dogged determination and heroic efforts, the American people are no longer listening to them, their various self-appointed spokespersons, or interested in their positions on the issues. Now, to be sure, this has certainly not deterred them from pushing their crazy ideas and off-kilter world-view on an apathetic public. On the contrary, the more people either shrug and turn away, or point and laugh, the louder and more strident they become.

Like the Democratic Party of a generation ago, I do believe that it will be at least a little while before the Republican Party finds a new voice. In the meantime, we have the sad spectacle of the conservative movement imploding, the Republican Party bickering with itself, and Democrats forced to smile and accept Arlen Specter as a member in good standing of the party (I suppose you gotta take the bad with the good . . .).

Overall, though, their relevance to current political and policy debates? Null. Zero. The most interesting debates are within the Democratic Party.

As Maine Goes, So Goes Ohio . . .

Maine has made same-sex marriage legal. Expect some right-wing organization to start demanding a boycott of lobster. During a recession.

45 to go.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

"A ticking bomb becomes a default assumption which in turn becomes a legitimization or justification for torture,"

As the discussion of torture continues - thank God - the whole "ticking time-bomb" BS has come under scrutiny, and, not surprisingly, been found wanting in the reality department.
"I've personally been told that they happen but I have to admit that in the years, in now the decade I have been told about it, I have become increasingly skeptical," says terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman.


"A ticking bomb becomes a default assumption which in turn becomes a legitimization or justification for torture," Hoffman says today, nearly 10 years after he heard the story. "And in actual fact, even though people have told me about it, I have yet to see an actual documented case independently of what I was told."

To be "fair and balanced" (please sue me, FOXNews . . .)
Former CIA agent Michael Scheuer is convinced that there are times when torture is required. He recently spoke to NPR's Michel Martin and said that he happened "to know that at least until 2004 these activities were very productive, broke up plots aimed at our allies, and aimed against the domestic United States."

Except, of course, specifics aren't cited . . .
Details on what interrogators actually got from techniques like waterboarding are sketchy. Former CIA Director Michael Hayden has said that the first man the U.S. waterboarded, an al-Qaida operative named Abu Zubaydah, was unhelpful until the rough stuff began.

The FBI remembers it differently. The bureau says it took just two weeks for Zubaydah to provide information on Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, without the use of aggressive tactics. Rohan Guaratna agrees. He's an al-Qaida expert who has worked with both the CIA and the FBI and is very familiar with Zubaydah's case.

"Abu Zabaydah told the name of KSM before the enhanced techniques were used," says Guaratna.

All those people who pose hypotheticals derived from 24 and badly written French suspense novels (see the link for details) shouldn't be taken seriously. The issue isn't hypothetical. Indeed, precisely because both the FBI and military refused to torture, while the CIA did so, we have a classic experiment - with control groups and everything - and can test the efficacy of torture. So far not a single verifiable example of quicker, better, actionable intelligence gained through torture has come to light. The CIA officer who insists that potential attacks in the US and Europe were thwarted by torture refuses to discuss them. As far as I'm concerned, either put up or shut up.

BTW, Michael Hayden and that CIA guy who say that torture is sometimes necessary? Moral monsters. They deserve jail, to say the least.

This is the best line of the whole story:
"What I get most out of the waterboarding of Khalid Shaikh Mohamed is that any approach — I don't care what it is — if you have to do it 183 times, it is not working," says Matthew Alexander. He was the military interrogator in charge of the team that ended up finding al-Qaida's No. 1 man in Iraq, without resorting to torture.


Of course, we all bear responsibility for this, because it was done in our names. Any torture supporters want to go to Pakistan, say, and defend our right to torture people? Anyone?

Ha Ha. And Again I Say Ha

Now, I have yet to understand, exactly, what happened with Miss California USA and the whole anti-gay marriage thing. Honest. Nor do I care. At all. This, however, is something like just desserts.
Miss California Carrie Prejean has found herself disrobing her way through more controversy!

On Monday, photos surfaced on showing a topless Carrie Prejean posing provocatively. However, Carrie quickly responded to the photos, claiming she was only 17 years old when the pictures were taken.

But was Carrie’s claim a strategic move since many media outlets would not likely air underage nudity?

Today, Access Hollywood uncovered evidence, which may put her age at over 18 when the photos were taken.

Now, being safer now than sorry later, I haven't put up the picture, which is nothing more than ad-copy from a Victoria's Secret catalog. What I find hysterical about all this is (a) this is a clear violation of Miss USA pageant rules (you can see the relevant portions in the linked post). Also, Ms. Prejean's claim that she is being targeted because she is a Christian is probably true; yet, what better reason than her holier-than-thou attitude to target her for something like this? Seriously.

I do so want to hear her reasoning behind the contradictory "I was only 17!" claim and "They were for a professional portfolio!" arguments. What modeling agency or potential photographer would be willing to take on a client willing to violate the law like that?

This is truly LOL-worthy.

May 5, 1970

Yesterday was the anniversary of the Kent State University killings. Today is the anniversary of near-universal college and university explosions in protest. For those too young or ignorant of history, members of the Ohio National Guard were on the campus of Kent State University in Ohio, and while the details are still murky - were they attacked with bottles? Were they just over-nervous kids who, for whatever reasons, were issued live rounds? - opened fire, killing four people, including a student walking across campus minding his own business (the photo of a young woman crying over his dead body won the Pulitzer for photojournalism that year).

Among the campuses that shut down was my alma mater, Alfred University. I was given the poop by a history prof I had, Gary Ostrower. Apparently, then-Gov. Nelson Rockefeller had decided to preempt any attempt by students all over the state at trouble by sending in contingents of State Police armed with riot gear - whether at large schools like Cornell, or little tiny ones like Alfred. Now, it should be noted that Alfred was hardly a hotbed of radicalism, but this particular event triggered both rage and fear, a rage and fear compounded by Rockefeller's stupid decision. No one acquitted themselves well that day, but since the bulk of the power lay in the hands of police armed with shotguns and wearing helmets, I do believe there is a place we can at least glance at for responsibility.

One of the oldest buildings on our campus is Kanakadea Hall (named for the little creek that runs through town). It sits on the southern edge of the academic quad, and just to the southwest, there is a staircase that runs down to a little natural area with a walkway that runs to the street beyond. The campus was overrun by students, buildings were taken over, and a couple students were holed up in the attic of K. Hall. All they had to use against armed police were . . . water balloons. As a couple officers came up the stairs and crossed in front of the building, they opened fire.

Not smart.

Lucky for everyone involved, the cops were not nearly as tense or trigger happy as the young citizen-soldiers in Ohio, or it could have turned very ugly and very bad.

A year or so later, an investigation by Attorney General John Mitchell concluded that no one was to blame, the Guard units had acted properly, and the deaths were the unfortunate result of students behaving badly. Of course, Mitchell himself was behaving badly at this time, and ended up doing a little bit of time in the pokey for his own crimes. Hardly justice, but a little schadenfreude probably helped the ghosts of Kent State rest a little easier.

Monday, May 04, 2009

A Question

Is it possible for Newt Gingrich to speak in public and not give evidence that he is nothing more than a source of amusement?

Music For Your Monday

Jam-band extraordinaire Phish. "Bouncing Around The Room":

A standard cover they do, Edgar Winter's instrumental "Frankenstein":

I love this song! Found this from the 1998 Farm Aid concert, Neil Young doing his "Down By The River", with Phish as his backing band. Sit back and be amazed. . .

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Prom Night

As I noted, I DJed a prom last night, for Depue High School. It was actually a lot of fun, a challenge in some ways, too. I got thinking, and while this is more ER's schtick than mine, I thought, "What the heck?"

My Senior Prom was the night before graduation. It was held at the VFW Hall in South Waverly, and I remember the band had a female lead singer (it was the time for that, what with Pat Benatar, Quarterflash, Martha and the Motels). My date was Lisa Montz from Sayre (I had taken her to her prom about a month before). She wore green, I recall. My tux, I am embarrassed to say, had ruffles. Lots of them (sigh).

Prom memories, please.

Supreme Choice

It is fascinating to watch the media-right-wing screech-a-thon begin with the announcement by Justice David Souter that he will be retiring from the Supreme Court once a replacement has been approved by the Senate. All the old tropes, memes, talking points, and other such things are trotted out, with the additional fun that Souter is almost universally despised by the right.

Pres. Obama has said that he understands the importance of this part of his job. That's about it.

The differences between the reaction of the right and the Obama Administration - indeed, of any Administration in recent memory - to the question of who will sit on the Supreme Court is telling. Obama understands that this is about appointing someone who will sit for life on the highest court of our country of laws. The right, already in meltdown mode, is beside itself with the thought that Obama might just appoint (gasp! grab chest in Red Foxx-style fake heart attack!) a liberal who might not be an old white guy. . . Heaven forbid.

Rather than make this another "test" of his Administration, it is nothing more or less than part of the job. I like that. It keeps everyone calm, and keeps the press from making every event a crisis or test or something earth-shaking. I like that.

Happy Birthday, Pete Seeger

Today, Pete Seeger turns 90 years old. He is an American treasure, Whitmanesque to the core, keeping alive a tradition of song that might just be lost with the ever-quickening urbanization and cultural destruction wrought by the ubiquity of satellite television. Here he is singing a great song by Malvina Reynolds, "Little Boxes". Such a simple song, but nails the kind of deathly social conformity that was bleeding America dry after the Second World War.

Here he is this past January at Pres. Obama's inauguration, along with Bruce Springsteen, leading the crowd in Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land". This song always makes me get a little teary; a much more fitting national anthem, as far as I'm concerned.

Virtual Tin Cup

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