April 01, 2009

Going On Culture

I think this has to be my favorite music video of all time. I defy you to watch it without smiling:

Absolutely glorious.

[Thanks, Jacqueline]

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February 14, 2008

Women In Art Culture

This is captivating:

So beautifully done.

[Thanks, Miles]

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December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas Culture

Iris Dement.

[Via RI]

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September 27, 2007

Masculinity As Conquest Culture  Ethics  War and Peace

Making the connections:

From Stan Goff and Audrey Mantey. Goff is a veteran of the US Army Rangers, Airborne, Delta Force, and Special Forces. He served in Vietnam, El Salvador, Grenada, Panama, Honduras, Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Somalia, and Haiti. Which is to say, he knows a whole lot more about combat than you or I.

Here's his advice for people considering joining the military. Excellent:

(Via Feral Scholar)

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June 19, 2007

Shadow Art Culture

This is so clever.

Note the gulls.

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April 16, 2007

The Edge Culture  Future  Media  Science/Technology

Just wanted to make a plug for an extraordinary website called The Edge. It brings together world-class thinkers from a variety of fields and has them talk or write about what's on their minds: what's interesting and important to them right now, with an emphasis on leading edge ideas.

People like Lee Smolin, Steven Pinker, Jared Diamond, Lisa Randall, Stuart Kauffman, Daniel Dennett, Freeman Dyson, Richard Dawkins, Marvin Minsky, Ernst Mayr, Brian Greene, Susan Blackmore, John Barrow, Ray Kurzweil, E. O. Wilson, Esther Dyson, and an old professor of mine, John Allen Paulos. And many more.

Check out the page of videos, lots of goodies there.

Most addicting, though, is the World Question Center. Each year, a hundred or so luminaries are invited to submit a short answer to a question like "What's your dangerous idea?" or "What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?" The variety of viewpoints and ideas is astounding and endlessly fascinating. Mind-expanding in the best sense of the word.

Well worth a bookmark.

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April 12, 2007

What Fun Culture  Humor & Fun

This website is a total gas. Go.

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Up In Heaven Now Culture

Kurt Vonnegut, novelist, humorist, free-thinker, died yesterday. He left these instructions (via Pharyngula):

I am, incidentally, Honorary President of the American Humanist Association, having succeeded the late, great science fiction writer Isaac Asimov in that totally functionless capacity. We had a memorial service for Isaac a few years back, and I spoke and said at one point, "Isaac is up in heaven now." It was the funniest thing I could have said to an audience of humanists. I rolled them in the aisles. It was several minutes before order could be restored. And if I should ever die, God forbid, I hope you will say, "Kurt is up in heaven now." That's my favorite joke.

I love that "God forbid."

So, as requested: Kurt is up in heaven now.

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March 01, 2007

This American Life Culture  Media

Best possible news for fans of NPR's "This American Life": starting on March 22, a new video version will premiere on Showtime. Here's the trailer:

Wow. This could turn out to be about the best tv show ever. Three weeks from today.

[Thanks, Ali]

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December 25, 2006

JB Is Gone Culture

James Brown, one of the true giants of 20th century American music, is gone. When I was a Penn undergrad, JB played homecoming one year and absolutely tore the place up. I can't tell you how much I enjoyed seeing him and his impeccably funky band assault that Ivy League citadel of white privilege. He rocked the house like literally no one else could. No compromises, no prisoners. This was just a few years before his astonishing performances in Zaire that you can see in the superb documentary When We Were Kings. Rest in peace, JB.

JB's one-time "funky drummer" Clyde Stubblefield has for years been a staple of the music scene here in Madison, playing three or four gigs somewhere around town most weeks. A beautiful, sweet cat with a beatific smile, who's still got the funkiest chops around, but sadly his health, too, has been failing of late. Wishing you all the best, Clyde.

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October 18, 2006

The Little Girl Giant Culture

Spellbinding:

[Thanks, Chris]

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September 16, 2006

Devo Live Culture

Has it really been almost 30 years?

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September 03, 2006

Sugar Blue Culture

For this holiday weekend... If you're a fan of the blues, and of blues harp, in particular, I think you'll enjoy this video of Sugar Blue.

View it at YouTube.

[Thanks, Maurice]

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April 11, 2006

Everybody's Crying Mercy Culture

Mose Allison's Everybody's Crying Mercy just came up on my iPod. I posted the lyrics once before, but it's worth doing again. Written over 35 years ago, but it could have been yesterday:

I can't believe the things I'm seein'
I wonder 'bout some things I've heard
Everybody's crying mercy
When they don't know the meaning of the word

A bad enough situation
Is sure enough getting worse
Everybody's crying justice
Just as long as there's business first

Toe to toe, touch and go
Give a cheer, get your souvenir

People running round in circles
Don't know what they're headed for
Everybody's crying peace on earth
Just as soon as we win this war

Straight ahead, knock em dead
Pack your kit, choose your hypocrite

You don't have to go to off-Broadway
To see something plain absurd
Everybody's crying mercy
When they don't know the meaning of the word

Nobody knows the meaning of the word

Everybody's crying justice — just as long as there's business first.

Everybody's crying peace on earth — just as soon as we win this war.

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April 03, 2006

Jackie McLean Culture

Alto saxophonist Jackie McLean died Friday. In his youth, McLean played with nearly all of the jazz giants: Bird, Miles, Monk, Mingus, Bud Powell. He was one of the last remaining links to that magnificent era. Some others remain — Sonny Rollins, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock — but their numbers are dwindling.

I'm an alto player myself (strictly amateur), and Jackie McLean has always been one of my favorite players. He had a truly distinctive sound, making him one of those players (like Coltrane, say, or Stan Getz) whom you can identify after hearing only a note or two. He was a native of New York City, and his sound always seemed to me to be unmistakably urban — insistent, urgent, cutting, often aggressive, even tough — a true New York City sound. His playing always makes me want to jump to my feet. And man could he play the blues.

My favorite McLean recording is Let Freedom Ring, especially the cut "Melody for Melonae" that McLean wrote for his daughter. I remember one sunny summer vacation afternoon years ago, driving through Telluride, Colorado with my own daughter, Ali, the car windows open, the breeze blowing through, and "Melody for Melonae" on at top volume. The song starts with a somewhat funereal intro, but then McLean launches into a solo that begins with what for me are five of the most exciting notes in jazz. McLean's emphatic solo is propelled along by Billy Higgins' restless, kinetic drumming, and the result never fails to excite, even all these years later. That day in Telluride, Ali was still pretty young and she has doubtless forgotten all about it, but it was a moment I will always remember. Because of the song.

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September 28, 2005

Religiosity And Societal Health Culture  Ethics  Religion

It's axiomatic among American conservatives — and many other Americans, too — that religion (in the conventional sense of the word) is a force for social good. The less religious a society, the greater will be the incidence of crime, abortion, sexual promiscuity, sexually transmitted diseases, suicide, and so on.

Sounds plausible. But if you actually look at the data, it turns out to be the opposite of the truth. Excerpts from a new study published in the Journal of Religion and Society:

In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy, and abortion in the prosperous democracies...The most theistic prosperous democracy, the U.S.,...is almost always the most dysfunctional of the developing democracies, sometimes spectacularly so, and almost always scores poorly. The view of the U.S. as a "shining city on the hill" to the rest of the world is falsified when it comes to basic measures of societal health...No democracy is known to have combined strong religiosity and popular denial of evolution with high rates of societal health. Higher rates of non-theism and acceptance of human evolution usually correlate with lower rates of dysfunction, and the least theistic nations are usually the least dysfunctional. None of the strongly secularized, pro-evolution democracies is experiencing high levels of measurable dysfunction. [...]

Indeed, the data examined in this study demonstrates that only the more secular, pro-evolution democracies have, for the first time in history, come closest to achieving practical "cultures of life" that feature low rates of lethal crime, juvenile-adult mortality, sex related dysfunction, and even abortion. The least theistic secular developing democracies such as Japan, France, and Scandinavia have been most successful in these regards. The non-religious, pro-evolution democracies contradict the dictum that a society cannot enjoy good conditions unless most citizens ardently believe in a moral creator. The widely held fear that a Godless citizenry must experience societal disaster is therefore refuted. [My emphasis]

The exceptional nature of US society is seen most dramatically in the graphs that accompany the paper, some of which are reproduced below. It is shocking, in fact, what an extreme outlier the US turns out to be, the mark of a society in real trouble. Look for the U's:

(Legend: A = Australia, C = Canada, D = Denmark, E = Great Britain, F = France, G = Germany, H = Holland, I = Ireland, J = Japan, L = Switzerland, N = Norway, P = Portugal, R = Austria, S = Spain, T = Italy, U = United States, W = Sweden, Z = New Zealand)






Americans are so clueless, by and large, about the rest of the world that they will continue to believe that the US is Number One in all things good, even as we fall further and further behind other First World democracies. When an individual person's self-image is wildly divergent from his/her behavior, we recognize it as being symptomatic of psychological and/or moral pathology. What this study shows is an analogous situation on a national scale.

Small wonder, then, that our national political leaders are a bunch of self-styled Fundamentalist Christians who conduct their affairs like gangsters and thieves.

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August 01, 2005

They're Onto Us Culture

They're onto us. From today's Financial Times:

The US is increasingly viewed as a "culture-free zone" inhabited by arrogant and unfriendly people, according to study of 25 countries' brand reputations. The findings, published online today, will add to concerns that anti-Americanism is hurting companies whose products are considered to be distinctly "American".

The Anholt-GMI Nation Brands Index found that although US foreign policy remained a key driver of hostility, dissatisfaction with the world's sole superpower might run deeper.

"The US is still recognised as a leading place to do business, the home of desirable brands and popular culture," said Simon Anholt, author of the survey. "But its governance, its cultural heritage and its people are no longer widely respected or admired by the world."

Keith Reinhard, president of Business for Diplomatic Action, a group of business leaders dedicated to improving the US's image overseas, said help from the private sector was needed to repair Brand America.

"Right now the US government is not a credible messenger," said Mr Reinhard...

The US ranked 11th in the Brands Index, which asks people around the world to rate 25 countries according to their cultural, political and investment potential and other criteria. Australia received the highest overall score...

Although the US received high marks for its popular culture, it ranked last in cultural heritage, a measure of a country's "wisdom, intelligence, and integrity", according to Mr Anholt.

That the world takes a dim view of the US people will surprise most Americans themselves: the study's American respondents consistently placed the US at the top of all six categories polled. [My emphasis]

I love that last bit: Americans consistently ranking themselves number one. We're so dumb we don't even know how dumb we are.

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June 25, 2005

Your Flag Decal Won't Get You Into Heaven Anymore Culture

Amid all this flag-burning foolishness, now might be a good time to go back and listen to John Prine:

While digesting Reader's Digest
In the back of a dirty book store,
A plastic flag, with gum on the back,
Fell out on the floor.
Well, I picked it up and I ran outside
Slapped it on my window shield,
And if I could see old Betsy Ross
I'd tell her how good I feel.

Chorus:
But your flag decal won't get you
Into Heaven any more.
They're already overcrowded
From your dirty little war.
Now Jesus don't like killin'
No matter what the reason's for,
And your flag decal won't get you
Into Heaven any more.

Well, I went to the bank this morning
And the cashier he said to me,
"If you join the Christmas club
We'll give you ten of them flags for free."
Well, I didn't mess around a bit
I took him up on what he said.
And I stuck them stickers all over my car
And one on my wife's forehead.

(Repeat Chorus)

Well, I got my window shield so filled
With flags I couldn't see.
So, I ran the car upside a curb
And right into a tree.
By the time they got a doctor down
I was already dead.
And I'll never understand why the man
Standing in the Pearly Gates said...

"But your flag decal won't get you
Into Heaven any more.
We're already overcrowded
From your dirty little war.
Now Jesus don't like killin'
No matter what the reason's for,
And your flag decal won't get you
Into Heaven any more."

All together now, with feeling...

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June 22, 2005

Air Force Academy As Christian Cult Culture  Religion  War and Peace

If this doesn't scare you, maybe it should. Time reports that evangelical Christianity has all but taken over at the Air Force Academy. Excerpts:

It was with happy anticipation that retired Air Force Colonel David Antoon and his son Ryan, 18, arrived last year at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., for an orientation for accepted students. But their pride soon turned to perplexity. On the schedule was a visit to the school chapel. A loyal alumnus, Antoon remembered academy chaplains as a low-key group who made no attempt to press their brand of faith on others. But that day, before a crowd that probably included future cadets of all creeds, the chaplain at the microphone boasted about the huge popularity of Christian Bible studies, and several of his colleagues, Antoon recalls, responded, "Amen" and "Hallelujah."

"My jaw just dropped," says Antoon. "I thought, Is this the Air Force Academy or Rocky Mountain Bible College?" For this and other reasons, Ryan passed up his all-expenses-paid congressional appointment to the academy and enrolled elsewhere.

The Antoons' experience was not an aberration. This week, after a six-week barrage of allegations, the Air Force is expected to release a report based on more than 300 interviews, addressing charges that the academy is rife with an officially encouraged religious evangelization. Critics say the behaviors violated the Constitution and Department of Defense regulations — and threatened troop unity by teaching future commanders overt religious favoritism. [...]

The first stories appeared in the Colorado Springs Gazette. They gained traction thanks to a July 2004 memo by a Yale Divinity School team that advised academy chaplains on rape counseling but made note of "stridently evangelical themes" in Protestant services and warned that this could "encourage religious divisions." The letter was co-signed by Captain MeLinda Morton, a Lutheran chaplain at the academy. She has been reassigned to Okinawa — punishment, she claims, for speaking out, although the Air Force denies it. She has questioned the influence on the school of the many powerful Christian groups headquartered in Colorado Springs, sometimes called "Evangelical mecca." Some groups, she says, "have Bible studies and classes in which faculty members can learn how to evangelize in their opening statements to students each year." [...]

Taken together, the complaints suggest evangelical saturation. They claim that mandatory gatherings often opened with prayers and that some professors actively recruited cadets to join evangelical churches. At Christmastime some senior faculty members would sign religious ads in the base paper, including this 2003 message: "We believe that Jesus Christ is the only real hope for the world. If you would like to discuss Jesus, feel free to contact one of us!" Revered football coach Fisher DeBerry once hung a banner in his locker room reading I AM A MEMBER OF TEAM JESUS CHRIST. He allegedly led game-day prayer "in Jesus' name." DeBerry has said he actually prayed to a "Master Coach."

The ranking evangelizer was the academy's second in command, Brigadier General Johnny Weida, a deeply religious former Thunderbirds pilot who was brought in to help restore dignity to the school after a 2003 sexual-abuse scandal. Promoting the National Day of Prayer on May 1, 2003, Weida sent a mass e-mail urging participation and noting that "the Lord is in control." He established a call-and-response routine at campus events. When he shouted "Airpower!" evangelical cadets would yell "Rock, sir!" The cheer was allegedly a reference to Jesus' words that his house is built on rock, intended to provoke curiosity among non-Evangelicals and start conversations about Christ. If so, it also verbally erased any distinction between loyalty to the Air Force and to Weida's God. [...]

As a cadet last year, Patrick Kucera, an atheist, tried filing a complaint about Christian proselytizing with the academy's Military Equal Opportunity (MEO) office. The MEO officer, says Kucera, not only discouraged the filing on technical grounds but also said he felt obliged, as a believer, "to try to bring you back to the flock." [My emphasis]

It's hard to be comfortable with the idea that a branch of the service that controls thousands of thermonuclear weapons is being turned into a cult for a Rapture-addled strain of Christianity preoccupied with apocalyptic predictions of The Second Coming. When people are convinced that they are taking their orders from God, they are capable of anything.

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June 18, 2005

On Stealing Music Culture  Media

Here's a deftly written, thought-provoking and nuanced meditation, in the form of an open letter to the Music Industry, on the ethics of stealing music by downloading. Music industry dinosaurs should read it and take it to heart — but they probably won't. Even if you don't buy or download music, you still may find it a rewarding read. Recommended.

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June 01, 2005

Let The Book Burning Begin Culture

Conservative weekly Human Events assembled a panel of "15 conservative scholars and public policy leaders" and asked them to name the most harmful books of the 19th and 20th centuries. The resulting list of 30 books includes predictable titles like The Communist Manifesto and Mein Kampf, but it also includes the following (link via The Talent Show):

No, that wasn't a typo. These are supposed to be the most harmful books of the past two centuries.

Darwin. De Beauvoir. Ehrlich. Freud. Friedan. Keynes. Kinsey. Mead. Mill.

A list worthy of Orwell's Ministry of Culture — or of the Third Reich.

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May 17, 2005

James Howard Kunstler Interview Culture  Economy  Peak Oil

Several weeks ago, I heard James Howard Kunstler, author of The Long Emergency, speak here in Madison. He's funny, blunt, insightful, and visionary. If you get a chance to hear him speak, don't miss it, but the next best thing may be to read his interview in Salon. You should read the whole thing, but here are some excerpts:

We have now become a people who believe that wishing for things makes them happen. Unfortunately, the world just doesn't work that way. The truth is that no combination of alternative fuels or so-called renewables will allow us to run the U.S.A. — or even a substantial fraction of it — the way that we're running it now. [...]

These immensely hypertrophic organisms like Wal-Mart are products of the special economic growth of the late 20th century, namely an unusually long period of relative world peace and extraordinarily cheap energy. If you remove those two elements, all large-scale enterprises — corporate farming, big-box shopping, big government, professional sports — are going to be in trouble. [...]

The housing bubble is a perverse form of financial behavior. It's a consequence of capital desperately seeking a way to increase in an industrial economy that has ceased to grow. America is no longer producing wealth in the conventional sense. And so the housing bubble is a way for residual capital to produce wealth. But like all bubbles, it's a delusional thing that will probably end in tears. [...]

One of the main characteristics of the suburbs is that everyone can lead an urban life in a rural setting. But land is simply not going to be available for suburban development anymore. So what we're going to see in the years ahead is the return of a much firmer distinction between what is urban and what is rural, between what's the town and what's the country. Because we're going to have to grow so much more of our food close to home, we're going to have to value rural land differently than we have for the past half century. [...]

One thing that I'm predicting is that there will be a vigorous and futile defense of suburbia and all its entitlements, no matter what reality is telling us to do. And this will translate into a lot of political mischief. You can quote me: Americans will vote for cornpone Nazis before they will give up their entitlements to a McHouse and a McCar. [...]

The dirty secret of the American economy for more than a decade now is that it is largely based on the continued creation of suburban sprawl and all its accessories and furnishings. And if you remove that from our economy there isn't a whole lot left besides hair cutting, Colonel Sanders' chicken, and open-heart surgery. [...]

[W]e're going to have to let those things go, whether we like it or not. Just don't expect to be led through this in an orderly way. The key to understanding what we face is turbulence. We're going through big changes attended by a lot of turbulence, disorder and hardship. [...]

I think that we've overshot our window of opportunity to have an orderly transition. [...]

One of the great tragedies of the Wal-Mart fiasco has been the destruction of the social and economic roles of businesses in communities. Those roles were pretty complex and created deep webs of culture that we've allowed to be systematically dismantled and destroyed. We're going to get some of them back. [...]

I also think we will cease to be a nation of TV zombies who are merely entertaining ourselves to avoid being bored. [...]

Americans are suffering so much from being in unrewarding environments that it has made us very cynical. I think that American suburbia has become a powerful generator of anxiety and depression. If we happen to let it go, we won't miss it that much. Very few people are going to feel nostalgic about the parking lot between the Chuck E. Cheeses and the Kmart. [My emphasis]

Go read it in full. How will we need to live in the future? Here's a clue.

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May 14, 2005

How Cool Is This? Culture

Kent just sent me the link to this marvelous site. Downloadable paper toys that have to be seen to be believed. Such a wonderful idea, so beautifully executed.

Go check it out. Prepare to be thrilled and amazed!

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May 12, 2005

Stand Up Culture

Dave Matthews Band has a new album, "Stand Up". Just now listening to it. It opens with these words:

I would dig a hole all the way to China
Unless of course I was there
Then I'd dig my way home
If by digging I could steal
The wind from the sails of the greedy men
Who rule the world

Amen to that. Amen.

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April 07, 2005

Livin' La Vida Robot Culture

Here's a story guaranteed to put a smile on your face and, if you're like me, tears in your eyes: "How four underdogs from the mean streets of Phoenix took on the best from M.I.T. in the national underwater bot championship."

It's a terrific story: uplifting, inspiring, funny, and moving. Check it out.

[Thanks, Kent]

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April 02, 2005

Emoting For The Camera Culture  Media

With Terri Schiavo, and now with the Pope, we see what's long since become a central ingredient of all such stories: crowds of people self-consciously emoting for the camera while the rest of the media-connected world watches them — and watches themselves watching them, and watches people like Larry King watching them, and so on.

The whole sentimental spectacle turns emotion and grief into self-conscious performance. Whatever the people whom we see may be feeling, we can safely bet that they are never, not for a moment, unaware that the camera's eye rests on them, and that they are actors in a self-referential global media pageant.

In an absolutely first-rate new book, Mediated, Thomas de Zengotita writes in passing about this phenomenon as it surfaced in the public spectacle of grieving upon the death of Princess Di:

[I watched the] mourners, assembled in their millions on the streets of London. Princess Diana's mourners, so many of them, so obviously exhibiting their grief, not even pretending that they weren't exhibiting it, understanding that this was their role, in both the sociological and theatrical sense, understanding that they were there for this purpose in service of the Global Show that their very presence was inciting, producing, and promoting in real time — a show about them "being in the moment" [like all good method actors] in what amounted to a worldwide improv. Celebrities all, celebrities at last. [...]

I detect traces of that element, more elusively embedded, whenever I watch the bereaved on TV, the relatives and victims of every sort of mishap and disaster — I suppose I've seen, how many thousands over the years? Tens? Hundreds? But I always wonder, as I watch them in the glow — some for a passing moment, others turning grief into a worthy cause, taking up residence, launching a second life — I always wonder: what is this doing to you? [...]

What it comes down to is this: Di's mourners were truly grieving and they were performing. Immersed in a world continuously represented from very angle, they understood Di's death as an opportunity to play a significant role in it, to represent themselves at levels of prominence usually reserved for the celebrated.

The effect of this is as insidious as it is deep. Everyone's on stage, everyone's a performer, always, consciously or not, looking out for the camera. As de Zengotita puts it:

We are all method actors now.

Which is part of what makes this photo from outside Terri Schiavo's hospice so funny and refreshing:

Everyone in the picture is acutely aware that he/she is on camera — and that theatrical convention demands that they pretend otherwise. It is only the guy holding the "We Are Idiots" sign who breaks the fourth wall. While everyone else is busy staying in character, he's just having a ball. Revolution for the hell of it. The "Ramones" t-shirt is the perfect icing on the cake.

Meanwhile, in between the public grief spectacles and the celebrity murder and molestation trials, everyone's watching "American Idol", "Apprentice", and "Survivor". Where once we had reality, we now have just one big reality show.

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March 30, 2005

Bobby's Living Will Culture

This nails it.

[Link via Atrios)]

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March 28, 2005

Culture of Life Culture

Unbelievable.

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March 24, 2005

CBS Poll: Maybe There's Hope For America Culture  Politics  Rights, Law

A new CBS poll:

SHOULD CONGRESS AND THE PRESIDENT BE INVOLVED IN SCHIAVO MATTER?

Yes: 13%
No: 82%

WHAT SHOULD HAPPEN TO TERRI SCHIAVO NOW?

Re-insert tube: 27%
Do not re-insert: 66%

WHY DO YOU THINK CONGRESS GOT INVOLVED?

They care about Terri Schiavo: 13%
Trying to advance political agenda: 74%

CONGRESS JOB APPROVAL

Approve: 34%
Disapprove: 49%

BUSH JOB APPROVALS

Overall: 43% (49% on Feb 2)
Economy: 36% (38% on Feb 2)
Iraq: 39% (45% on Feb 2)

IF PATIENT IS IN A COMA, SHOULD CLOSE FAMILY MEMBER BE ABLE TO HAVE DOCTOR REMOVE THE FEEDING TUBE AND LET THE PERSON DIE?

Should: 73%
Should not: 17%

WHO SHOULD MAKE THE FINAL DECISION IF THE PATIENT IS IN A VEGETATIVE STATE AND DID NOT LEAVE LEGAL INSTRUCTIONS?

Spouse: 62%
Parents: 15%
Adult children: 10%

Even 68% of white evangelicals believe the Congress and President should stay out of the matter.

Maybe there's hope for us yet.

Just for the record, I have no opinion on the medical merits of the case. I'm no doctor and — unlike a number of people in Congress, apparently — I know I'm not qualified to make a medical judgment. What I object to is the disgusting way in which Congress and the White House have inserted themselves into this one particular case for political gain, and the way the media have gone along for the ride. And the savagery of the attacks on Terri Schiavo's husband has been appalling, to say the least.

The process of reducing American public discourse and media to dumb emotionalism, devoid of all reason and grounding in facts, continues. It's all about bathing people in images that appeal to their prejudice, fear, resentment, and irrational sentimentality, long-term consequences be damned.

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Culture Of Life Culture

Washington Post, January 25:

President Bush told thousands of antiabortion marchers yesterday that his administration is making progress toward fostering a "culture of life" by enacting measures that limit abortion and stem cell research while expanding the legal definition of life.

The Ledger (Lakeland, FL), March 22:

Ugly messages were left with [Florida] lawmakers [who opposed legislative efforts to intervene in the Terri Schiavo affair]. Sen. Nancy Argenziano, R-Dunnellon, said one letter came from a self-identified Christian who "prayed" for Argenziano to die a painful death with stomach cancer.

Sen. Rod Smith, D-Alachua, said one caller to his office said, "I'm a Christian, and I hope you will die in your own vomit."

In Jesus' name, Amen.

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March 23, 2005

Unevolved Culture

Some IMAX theatres down south are rejecting a film because it mentions evolution. AP:

IMAX theaters in several Southern cities have decided not to show a film on volcanoes out of concern that its references to evolution might offend those with fundamental religious beliefs.

"We've got to pick a film that's going to sell in our area. If it's not going to sell, we're not going to take it," said Lisa Buzzelli, director of an IMAX theater in Charleston that is not showing the movie. "Many people here believe in creationism, not evolution."

The film, "Volcanoes of the Deep Sea," makes a connection between human DNA and microbes inside undersea volcanoes.

Buzzelli doesn't rule out showing the movie in the future.

IMAX theaters in Texas, Georgia and the Carolinas have declined to show the film, said Pietro Serapiglia, who handles distribution for Stephen Low, the film's Montreal-based director and producer.

"I find it's only in the South," Serapiglia said.

How unevolved. One wonders what the rest of the world must think of us.

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March 07, 2005

Everybody's Crying Mercy Culture

Listening to Mose Allison singing Everybody's Crying Mercy. Written over 35 years ago, but it could have been yesterday:

I can't believe the things I'm seein'
I wonder 'bout some things I've heard
Everybody's crying mercy
When they don't know the meaning of the word

A bad enough situation
Is sure enough getting worse
Everybody's crying justice
Just as long as there's business first

Toe to toe, touch and go
Give a cheer, get your souvenir

People running round in circles
Don't know what they're headed for
Everybody's crying peace on earth
Just as soon as we win this war

Straight ahead, knock em dead
Pack your kit, choose your hypocrite

You don't have to go to off-Broadway
To see something plain absurd
Everybody's crying mercy
When they don't know the meaning of the word

Nobody knows the meaning of the word

Everybody's crying peace on earth — just as soon as we win this war.

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February 26, 2005

The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll Culture

If you're of a certain age, you know well Bob Dylan's doleful protest song "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll":

William Zanzinger killed poor Hattie Carroll
With a cane that he twirled around his diamond ring finger
At a Baltimore hotel society gath'rin'...

The climax of the song is still, after all these years, unforgettable:

But you who philosophize disgrace
And criticise all fears,
Bury the rag deep in your face,
For now is the time for your tears.

But, whatever happened to William Zanzinger (whose name, it turns out is actually spelled "Zantzinger", and who, as it happens, was sentenced to jail on the very day of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech)? What was the real story behind the song?

Ian Frazier reports [link via Xymphora], in a wonderfully evocative piece. Highly recommended.

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February 21, 2005

High School: Militarized Zone Culture  War and Peace

Dr. Teresa Whitehurst, psychologist and parent [via ICH]:

I learned something new yesterday. Channel One News, the "educational" TV show that my daughter Isa and millions of other American kids watch every morning at school, is busy recruiting our teenagers into the military.

"Mom, they're really aiming at the black kids, and the Hispanic kids too. I'm so sick of seeing those military ads everyday. "The Power of One", and all that lots of my friends are falling for it!" [...]

I stopped the car and asked, "Wait a minute. What do you mean when you say you're 'seeing those military ads every day'?"

"We have to watch this short thing every morning in homeroom called 'Channel One News'," Isa explained with a weary tone. "It's educational, supposedly. You know, the day's news, so we'll be up on current events. But in between the stories, there are more and more ads for the Army and the Marines." [...]

"Are you saying you're being recruited through the TV you watch during homeroom?" She nodded. I asked again, "What do your teachers think about this? What about Mr. Hitchens (not his real name), who told you privately that he's antiwar? Doesn't he say anything against it?"

"No, I think the teachers and the kids are so used to it at my school that they don't even notice anymore. I mean, the other day I was walking to Sociology class and heard the ROTC instructor telling the kids, 'Okay, this is how you hold your M-16.' The whole culture of the school is military these days, so nobody notices anything unusual about this. And I think the few teachers who aren't prowar or proBush are afraid to get in trouble if they say anything that doesn't sound pro-military."

What sort of culture colonizes the minds of its own children in this way?

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Not-So-Intelligent Design Culture  Musings  Science/Technology

The other day, Air America's Marc Maron, talking about opponents of the theory of evolution in general, and "intelligent design" proponents in particular, said that the essence of their analysis could be stated thus:

It's all so complicated.

I don't understand it.

Therefore, it has to be... magic.

Perfect! Had me laughing out loud in my car.

But for a more, shall we say, reasoned critique of "intelligent design," consult yesterday's NYT Magazine. Excerpt [link via The Talent Show]:

What can we tell about the designer from the design? While there is much that is marvelous in nature, there is also much that is flawed, sloppy and downright bizarre. Some nonfunctional oddities, like the peacock's tail or the human male's nipples, might be attributed to a sense of whimsy on the part of the designer. Others just seem grossly inefficient. In mammals, for instance, the recurrent laryngeal nerve does not go directly from the cranium to the larynx, the way any competent engineer would have arranged it. Instead, it extends down the neck to the chest, loops around a lung ligament and then runs back up the neck to the larynx. In a giraffe, that means a 20-foot length of nerve where 1 foot would have done. If this is evidence of design, it would seem to be of the unintelligent variety.

Such disregard for economy can be found throughout the natural order. Perhaps 99 percent of the species that have existed have died out. Darwinism has no problem with this, because random variation will inevitably produce both fit and unfit individuals. But what sort of designer would have fashioned creatures so out of sync with their environments that they were doomed to extinction?

The gravest imperfections in nature, though, are moral ones. Consider how humans and other animals are intermittently tortured by pain throughout their lives, especially near the end. Our pain mechanism may have been designed to serve as a warning signal to protect our bodies from damage, but in the majority of diseases — cancer, for instance, or coronary thrombosis — the signal comes too late to do much good, and the horrible suffering that ensues is completely useless.

As the article notes, "intelligent design" is not a scientific theory at all, since it cannot be tested or refuted. Its proponents can simply assert that whatever exists exists because the Designer designed it that way. At the very least, though, the design cannot be said to be unfailingly intelligent.

These days, ID proponents tend to avoid identifying the Designer as God, because they want to sneak the "theory" into school curricula, but we all know who they have in mind. But:

It is hard to avoid the inference that a designer responsible for such imperfections must have been lacking some divine trait — benevolence or omnipotence or omniscience, or perhaps all three.

Evolution, of course, has no problem explaining the various biological inefficiencies and blind alleys. So, in an ID world, why does all the evidence fit an evolutionary explanation so much better than an explanation by divine design?

If you tell me that God rigged the evidence to support evolution because He/She wants to test our faith, then I'll give you the same reply the late Bill Hicks used to give: "I think God put you here to test my faith, dude!"

Posted by Jonathan at 04:38 PM | Comments (5) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Why Ward Churchill Matters Activism  Culture  Politics  Rights, Law

Ward Churchill, as you probably know, is under attack for saying that many of the people killed in the 9/11 attacks were members of a "technocratic corps at the very heart of America's global financial empire" and "little Eichmanns."

If all you know about the controversy is obtained second-hand via mainstream media coverage, Churchill sounds, at best, shrill. Comparing a bunch of stock brokers and commodities traders to Eichmann does seem a bit, well, extreme. As always, however, the lesson is not to accept uncritically the mainstream media's characterization of anything.

What Churchill actually has to say is considerably more nuanced — and reasonable — than the caricature constructed by the media. Here's an excerpt from a recent appearance of Churchill's on Democracy Now with Amy Goodman:

AMY GOODMAN: Good to have you with us. Well, can you respond to this firestorm now? But I'd like you to start off by you explaining your comments that have become well known now around the issue of the technocrats at the World Trade Center being like little Eichmanns.

WARD CHURCHILL: Well it goes to Hannah Arendt's notion of Eichmann, the thesis that he embodied the banality of evil. That she had gone to the Eichmann trial to confront the epitome of evil in her mind and expected to encounter something monstrous, and what she encountered instead was this nondescript little man, a bureaucrat, a technocrat, a guy who arranged train schedules, who, as it turned out, ultimately didn't even agree with the policy that he was implementing, but performed the technical functions that made the holocaust possible, at least in the efficient manner that it occurred, in a totally amoral and soulless way, purely on the basis of excelling at the function and getting ahead within the system that he found himself. He was a good family man, in his way. He was loved by his children, participated in civic activities, was in essence the good German. And she [Arendt] said, therein lies the evil. It wasn't that Eichmann was a Nazi or a high official within Nazidom, although he was in fact a Nazi and a relatively highly placed official, but it was exactly the reverse: that given his actual nomenclature, the actuality of Eichmann was that anyone in this sort of mindless, faceless, bureaucratic capacity could be the Nazi. That he was every man, and that was what was truly horrifying to her in the end. That was a controversial thesis because there's always this effort to distinguish anyone and everyone irrespective of what they're doing from this polarity of evil that is signified in Nazidom, and she had breached the wall and brought the lessons of how Nazism actually functioned, the modernity of it, home and visited it upon everyone, calling for, then, personal accountability, responsibility, to the taking of responsibility for the outcome of the performance of one's functions. That's exactly what it is that is shirked here, and makes it possible for people to, from a safe remove, perform technical functions that result in (and at some level, they know this, they understand it) in carnage, emiseration, the death of millions ultimately. That's the Eichmann aspect. But notice I said little Eichmanns, not the big Eichmann. Not the real Eichmann. The real Eichmann ultimately is symbolic, even in his own context. He symbolized the people that worked under him. He symbolized the people who actually were on the trains. They were hauling the Jews. He symbolized the technicians who were making the gas for I.G. Farben. He symbolized all of these people who didn't directly kill anybody, but performed functions and performed those functions with a certain degree of enthusiasm and certainly with a great degree of efficiency, that had the outcome of the mass murder of the people targeted for elimination or accepted as collateral damage. That's the term of the art put forth by the Pentagon. [My emphasis]

Makes perfect sense to me.

Why are conservatives so exercised about Churchill? Why the concerted campaign to ruin him, to get him dismissed from his tenured faculty postion? James Wolcott:

[A]nyone who's been closely watching the weathervane knows that it is the Israeli-loyal right led by Daniel Pipes and David Horowitz who are spearheading the ideological purges of professors. John Kasich's weekend Fox News show recently had a segment called "Firing Tenured Professors," and that's the goal of conservative pressure groups, to drive out those political targets who would otherwise be protected by tenure. They began by picking a mostly obscure minor offender like Ward Churchill in the hopes of bagging him and moving on to bigger trophies.

There can be no doubt that conservatives have recently undertaken an organized campaign to target campuses to create a consensus mythology of "liberal bias" in campus life, just as they undertook, successfully, a generation ago, to create a mythology of "liberal bias" in the media. The goal is to drive liberal voices out of colleges and universities. Ward Churchill has been picked as an easy target for the purpose of establishing a precedent.

Tenure is like free speech. It's there to protect the unpopular utterance. Popular opinions require no protection. Ward Churchill absolutely deserves our support.

Posted by Jonathan at 03:22 PM | Comments (2) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Farewell, Doctor Gonzo Culture

I'm sad today.

Unlike so many of his fellow "journalists," Hunter Thompson never lost his sense of outrage. He played the cynic, but he was anything but. He will be missed.

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February 08, 2005

Of Praying Mantises And Saunas Culture

That James Wolcott sure can write. Here's a bit from his post yesterday:

[T]he Super Bowl was so carefully sterilized that it gave the praying mantises nothing to waggle their antenna about this morning. If the cultural-values conservatives ever succeed in cleaning up culture, they won't know what to do with themselves since it was never culture they were interested in anyway. The cultural conservatives of decades past actually read T. S. Eliot, Irving Babbitt, F. R. Leavis, and other custodians of tradition. Today's cult-cons scrutinize cartoons for butt-cracks and tabulate penis references in sitcoms, and then wonder why no one wants to sit next to them in the sauna.

How great is that last sentence? Yeeeow!

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January 30, 2005

Sauce For The Goose Culture  Humor & Fun  Religion

Eric Olson at Deep Blade Journal turned me on to Bob Park's weekly blog. Park is a physicist who posts a handful of items each week on science and technology in the news, together with his own sardonic commentary. Recommended.

Here's something from Park's blog this week. As you probably know, Cobb County, Georgia, wants disclaimer labels to be required on high school biology textbooks:

This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered.

Fair enough, says Park. After all, "[s]cience is open. If someone comes up with a better theory, the textbooks will be rewritten." But, fair's fair: let's put warning labels on Cobb County Bibles as well. Park suggests:

This book contains religious stories regarding the origin of living things. The stories are theories, not facts. They are unproven, unprovable and in some cases totally impossible. This material should be approached with an open mind, and a critical eye towards logic and believability.

Amen, Brothers and Sisters. Amen.

Posted by Jonathan at 04:27 PM | Comments (3) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

January 10, 2005

Banned In Mississippi Culture

Jon Stewart's book has been banned from libraries in several Mississippi counties. AP:

"I've been a librarian for 40 years and this is the only book I've objected to so strongly that I wouldn't allow it to circulate," said Robert Willits, director of the Jackson-George Regional Library System of eight libraries in Jackson and George counties.

As AMERICAblog says, "And they wonder why we make fun of them." Better yet, let's watch "The Daily Show" make fun of them. I gotta get to a TV tonight. Should be good.

Update: [1/11 9:53 AM] I caught "The Daily Show" last night. Stewart: "Of course, the go-to joke would be, 'Libraries? In Mississippi?'".

Posted by Jonathan at 08:12 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

January 06, 2005

Willful Ignorance Culture  Politics

Looking for a fun place to take the kids this summer? From the Telegraph [via Digby]:

The new multi-million-dollar Museum of Creation, which will open this spring in Kentucky, will...be aimed at the growing ranks of fundamentalist Christians in the United States.

It aims to promote the view that man was created in his present shape by God, as the Bible states, rather than by a Darwinian process of evolution, as scientists insist.

The centrepiece of the museum is a series of huge model dinosaurs, built by the former head of design at Universal Studios, which are portrayed as existing alongside man, contrary to received scientific opinion that they lived millions of years apart.

Other exhibits include images of Adam and Eve, a model of Noah's Ark and a planetarium demonstrating how God made the Earth in six days.

The museum, which has cost a mighty $25 million will be the world's first significant natural history collection devoted to creationist theory. It has been set up by Ken Ham, an Australian evangelist... He said that his aim was to use tourism, and the theme park's striking exhibits, to convert more people to the view that the world and its creatures, including dinosaurs, were created by God 6,000 years ago. [...]

Among the projects still to be finished is a reconstruction of the Grand Canyon, purportedly formed by the swirling waters of the Great Flood – where visitors will "gape" at the bones of dinosaurs that "hint of a terrible catastrophe", according to the museum's publicity.

Mr Ham is particularly proud of a planned reconstruction of the interior of Noah's Ark. "You will hear the water lapping, feel the Ark rocking and perhaps even hear people outside screaming," he said. [Nice touch, that.]

More controversial exhibits deal with diseases and famine, which are portrayed not as random disasters, but as the result of mankind's sin. Mr Ham's Answers in Genesis movement blames the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado, in which two teenagers killed 12 classmates and a teacher before killing themselves, on evolutionist teaching, claiming that the perpetrators believed in Darwin's survival of the fittest.

Other exhibits in the museum will blame homosexuals for Aids. In a "Bible Authority Room" visitors are warned: "Everyone who rejects his history — including six-day creation and Noah's flood — is `willfully' ignorant."

Elsewhere, animated figures will be used to recreate the Garden of Eden, while in another room, visitors will see a tyrannosaurus rex pursuing Adam and Eve after their fall from grace. "That's the real terror that Adam's sin unleashed," visitors will be warned. [...]

"Since President Bush's re-election we have been getting more membership applications than we can handle," said Mr Ham, who expects not just the devout, but also the curious, to flock through the turnstiles. "The evolutionary elite will be getting a wake-up call." [My emphasis]

The "evolutionary elite". You know — those of us with opposable thumbs.

Why don't educated conservatives feel more uneasy about the forces they're unleashing and the allies they're attracting?

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December 28, 2004

Surface Is As Surface Does Culture  Politics

Ezra Klein at Pandagon, drawing on an essay by Michael at Here's What's Left, has a perceptive post on how superficiality in culture and politics breeds more superficiality: the mind is trained to evaluate things in a certain way.

Recommended.

Posted by Jonathan at 01:14 PM | Comments (1) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb