Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Chasing their own anti-racist tails

I graduated from college in 1987. I was there for the initial rise of "political correctness," when the hair-shirt brigades descended on universities to demonstrate conclusively that dedicated lefties could be every bit as humorless and intolerant as the most frigid tee-totaling Methodists. No sex, no jokes, no fun -- and, most of all, no comfort in your own skin.

Well, it's good -- sort of -- to know that some things never change. Over twenty years later, that aversion to leaving people at peace to be their own damned imperfect selves comes through in hilarious form in a column from Canada's National Post, after an editor sat in on a four-part Toronto workshop on "Thinking About Whiteness and Doing Anti-Racism." Here's author Jonathan Kay's take on one participant's frenzy of self-doubt about the propriety of sharing her expertise with a class full of students, since that expertise might be the result of race-based advantages.
"Should I say yes? Or is it my responsibility to say no?" she said. "But then [my friend] may say, ‘I want you to do it -- because you have a particular approach ...'

"But wait! Could it be that the reason I have that ‘particular approach' is that I've been raised to think that I could have that particular approach, that I have the ability, that I am able to access education in a particular way? All these things are in my head, in my heart, not really knowing how to respond. On the other hand, I also recognize that the person asking me has the agency to decide that I'm the right person ... so I say yes! ... But then I'm still thinking ‘I don't know if I did the right thing.' I still struggle with this all the time ..."
All of this over whether or not to give a presentation on media arts. As Kay concludes:
In private conversation, they all seemed like good-hearted, intelligent people. But like communist die-hards confessing their counter-revolutionary thought-crimes at a Soviet workers' council, or devout Catholics on their knees in the confessional, they also seemed utterly consumed by their sin, regarding their pallor as a sort of moral leprosy. I came to see them as Lady Macbeths in reverse -- cursing skin with nary a "damn'd spot." Even basic communication with friends and fellow activists, I observed, was a plodding agony of self-censorship, in which every syllable was scrutinized for subconscious racist connotations as it was leaving their mouths.
Good times.

Have you ever wondered why some people don't just kill themselves?

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Ten years of suckage

In recent years, I've become increasingly hesitant about sitting down to write about the American political and legal scene. The fact is, every time I do so, sucking down a valium and vodka cocktail becomes not just a somewhat more viable option, but an increasingly enticing alternative to actually contemplating the country in which I live, the laws I must endure (and evade) and the people who craft and enforce those laws. I find ... Oh, God, where are the pills and booze ... ?

Sorry about that. I'm back now.

Anyway, I find life in these here United States at the end of 2009 to be deeply depressing, and not just because it has become socially acceptable to wear pajamas to the supermarket. The fact is, we live in a world in which our freedom erodes on a daily basis -- not because we were conquered, but because our friends, neighbors and relations (and, let's be honest, often ourselves) eagerly submit to intrusive, yet pointless, rules, regulations and "security theater" measures that make us not one bit safer from the world's bogeymen, but which provide an illusion of protection while enhancing the power of the creatures that rule over us.

And those creatures ... A less-impressive army of assclowns would be hard to imagine -- except that these assclowns are so very effective at whipping up public passions and extending their nasty tentacles over and into our lives. Bush may have been an incoherent bully, and Obama may be a presumptuous dilettante, but Nero would have wept with envy of the power that those two emperors presidents demagogues have commanded (including the awesome ability to make money appear from thin air -- and value evaporate).

So, if like me you shudder at the thought of living long enough to see the inevitable spectacle of Sarah Palin and Joe Biden declaring themselves co-dictators for life over the cheering masses of your fellow countrymen, then ... well ...

Nothing, actually. I'm out of ideas. So go mix yourself a drink and enjoy this rueful look at the last decade from ReasonTV:


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

And with Bill Ayers as John the Baptist ...

I've been accused of being a bit hyperbolic in portraying government as a religion-substitute for some people. Hmmm ... Have I gone overboard? Have I pushed the point too far by suggesting that the state has become a stand-in God for folks who just must have something ruling over their lives?

You watch the video below and tell me.

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Where's Leni Riefenstahl when you need her?

Through the years, plenty of governments have paid artists to sing the praises of the politically powerful and their programs. No matter how well executed, the collaborative efforts have almost universally struck observers as creepy, and have tainted participating artists as prostitutes willing to peddle their souls to government officials with checkbooks. So, as news seeps out that the National Endowment for the Arts is solicitating art supportive of the Obama administration's ambitious (and controversial) policy agenda, you have to wonder just how the participants can think this will end well.

Writing for Big Hollywood, filmmaker Patrick Courrielche tells of an NEA conference call that was intended “to help lay a new foundation for growth, focusing on core areas of the recovery agenda - health care, energy and environment, safety and security, education, community renewal.”

Says Courrielche (who is troubled by the scheme):

Backed by the full weight of President Barack Obama’s call to service and the institutional weight of the NEA, the conference call was billed as an opportunity for those in the art community to inspire service in four key categories, and at the top of the list were “health care” and “energy and environment.” The service was to be attached to the President’s United We Serve campaign, a nationwide federal initiative to make service a way of life for all Americans. ...

We were encouraged to bring the same sense of enthusiasm to these “focus areas” as we had brought to Obama’s presidential campaign, and we were encouraged to create art and art initiatives that brought awareness to these issues. Throughout the conversation, we were reminded of our ability as artists and art professionals to “shape the lives” of those around us. The now famous Obama “Hope” poster, created by artist Shepard Fairey and promoted by many of those on the phone call, and will.i.am’s “Yes We Can” song and music video were presented as shining examples of our group’s clear role in the election.

Given the large role the NEA plays in funding art (It has a $155 million budget this year -- a small sum in absolute terms, but one that makes it a major player in the arts scene), a successful effort to co-opt the artists it supports into propagandizing on behalf of the Obama administration's political agenda could, conceivably, be an effective way of shifting the national poliical environment.

Then again, it might all be wasted effort. Totalitarian governments have long drafted writers, film directors, playwrights and musicians into pro-state efforts, ony to produce clunky tripe that left the audience both bored and more cynical than ever. People often know when somebody is trying to push their buttons. Ideology, ultimately, is no substitute for real art.

But, in the United States, government officeholders aren't really supposed to use official agencies and resources to solicit support for partisan policies. That's a big no-no under the law, as the NEA seems aware, according to comments Courrielche passes along from the conference call.

“This is just the beginning. This is the first telephone call of a brand new conversation. We are just now learning how to really bring this community together to speak with the government. What that looks like legally?…bare with us as we learn the language so that we can speak to each other safely… “

Speak with each other safely? Ugh.

But if the NEA is treading close to the legal line (or crossing over it), any artists who heed the agency's invitation are likely gambling with something more important than the law: their credibility. Any message communicated by art can be good or bad on its own merits if it originates with the artist. But if it's done on behalf of government officials, it's not art anymore.

It's just political advertising.


Friday, July 10, 2009

Help, I'm trapped in the Smithsonian!

It occurs to me, as a guy who prefers sharpening a straight razor over throwing mountains of cartridges in the trash, wears grown-up hats instead of ball caps, considers a sport coat a minimum requirement for dining in a decent restaurant, and often writes with a decades-old fountain pen instead of buying plastic bags full of disposable pens (oh, OK, maybe the pen is just an eccentricity), that I'm in imminent danger of being nabbed and turned into a museum exhibit.

I'm as big a defender of consumer culture as anybody. I'm a big believer in choice. People should have options available and be able to select what suits them.

But my choices tend to veer sharply from those of the prevailing culture. Where most folks go for the lowest common denominator under the banner of comfort and convenience, I like quality, durability and a little style.

Razors I've written about before. I hone and strop my razor because I resent buying a "razor" that's nothing more than a handle that comes with an obligation to buy expensive cartridges. The vintage blade I'm using now cost me twenty bucks in a junk shop, which isn't much more than the price of a pack of Fusion blades. Yes, I have to maintain it, but it still gives a close shave after a half-century or so. Ten years from now, the Gilette Fusion will have been retired in favor of some vibrating 12-blade monstrosity, and my razor will still be going strong.

And, hats. I like hats. In fact, living under the Arizona sun, I need hats. But if you need protection from the elements, you can opt for something well-made, that makes you look good, or you can stick a cheap piece of polyester trash on your head. Actually, a lot of Arizonans feel as I do and wear felt hats in cooler weather and straw hats in summer. There's a tradition here of fine headwear. So there's really no excuse for sticking a ball cap on your head as the covering of choice. Especially since it makes you look like a 12-year-old boy.

Or is it the oversized logo T-shirt and cargo shorts you wore with the cap when you wandered outside that makes you look like you're developmentally impaired? Hmmm ... Let me think on that.

Don't get me started on how people dress for public consumption these days. Honestly, if you're going out for a nice meal in a restaurant where you plan to spend money on food that you trust will be well-prepared and delivered by at least moderately attentive wait-staff, why wouldn't you show respect to the place, the staff and your fellow diners by dressing for the occasion? Let's not go overboard; how about slacks and a collared shirt for starters? We'll work our way to a sport coat and tie.

Honestly, I want to be a maitre d' at a nice restaurant for just one night, just so I can tell everybody who shows up in a T-shirt and jeans to get lost.

But that would clear the place out these days, wouldn't it?

I'm not going to harp on the pen issue, since I grant that, maybe, insisting on using a fountain pen in 2009 is a tad ... off. But you gotta tip your hat to a writing instrument that still lays down ink after decades. My Pelikan Pelikano, the first pen I ever owned, dates back to the early seventies and still writes like a charm. My Sheaffer 500 "dolphin" dates to the early '60s, and my Parker 21 to the '50s (though it has been serviced once). These are well-made devices intended to last. I really appreciate that.

Again, it's all about choice. And I grant that some elements of the informal, disposable age make sense -- I'll take throw-away diapers over sterilizing cloth diapers every day of the week. And it's good to be able to throw a ball around on a hot summer day without being bogged down by the equivalent of business-casual clothes. Also, disposable means affordable -- to everybody, including folks who might have just been shut out in the past.

But I think there's value to well-made things that last, to acting like an adult, and to dressing in a way that shows respect for yourself and for others.

But thinking that way seems to put me in a dwindling minority. Maybe I'd be happier in a museum exhibit.


Thursday, June 25, 2009

I know you're all mourning the passing of Michael Jackson as much as I am

Which is to say, you're a bit astonished he lived this long. On the off chance that he actually died of "natural causes," that would be just about the only natural thing about his life in ... oh ... 30 years.

That's not to say I'm not sorry he's dead. Death is usually sad, even if it is an inevitable part of life.

But I'm not as sad as the sackcloth and ashes mood on the TV news suggests I should be. I mean, the guy was a pretty talented performer who peaked a quarter of a century ago, and had since pissed away much of his fortune exploring the outer limits of weirdness and fending off child abuse charges.

The guy is dead. I know his family and friends mourn. Now, report on something a little meaningful. How's Iran doing today?


Friday, June 5, 2009

Auto-erotic asphyxia? Really?

So, David Carradine went to Bangkok to ... jack off in a closet? If I'm ever found dead in a compromising situation in a foreign city, there are going to be three hookers in the room shooting ping pong balls at each other


Friday, May 1, 2009

Flu: you're soaking in it (but you probably shouldn't worry)

Like most folks, you're probably wondering what to make of the swine flu headlines: Deaths, schools closures, travel warnings ... it's "Last Man on Earth," isn't it? And maybe you get to be Vincent Price. (Or perhaps you'd prefer Will Smith?)

Well, probably not.

First, a little worrying news. You know those amazingly sparse "confirmed cases" figures? They're garbage. It takes 3-7 days to get results back from swine flu, so if the whole country had been tested on Wednesday, we still wouldn't know how prevalent it was.

But to test, you'd need proper test media for taking and transmitting samples. And that's in short supply. As of yesterday, our local hospital had none. That was a problem, since the night before they admitted a child who tested positive for Influenza A and showed all the warning signs of swine flu. My wife, a pediatrician, brought over one of the 15 kits in her office -- possibly the only media in the Verde Valley -- to take a sample that will either confirm or deny what the doctors suspect. After 3-7 days, that is.

In the meantime, my wife has been seeing 50 patients each day. That's a record for her. Her colleagues are also swamped. The kids coming in are all ...

Well, you know where this is going. Just assume that this bug is already widespread.

Now, the good news.

The swine flu, so far, looks like ... flu. That's not to say you want to catch it, but it doesn't appear to be anything like the killer bug that people have been fretting about. Chances are that if you catch it, you'll have a few lousy days. Then you'll get better.

That's it. No doomsday, no bodies stacked in the streets.

My biggest concern is that the timing sucks for me. My family is off tomorrow with friends on a cruise that was supposed to be along the Mexican Riviera. Because of the flu, Mexican ports are now off-limits, so instead, we'll sail along California's coast, where the bug is known to already have taken up residence.

But the CDC can't issue travel warnings against American ports, so there you go.

I could be wrong, of course. If so, I'll step off my cruise ship in a week to take up my rightful role as master of the smoking ruins.

Be not afraid. I'll be a reasonable barbarian warlord, taking my tribute in bourbon and good dope.

But I expect that, instead, I'll come back to find that everybody has the sniffles and the runs.

Just wash your hands, would you?


Monday, March 9, 2009

Citibank is under new management, and there have been a few changes ...

You know it's coming, right?

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Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Where's the cigarette holder, Barry?

Honestly, does Barack Obama just sit back, beating off to a photo of Franklin Delano Roosevelt while he's surrounded by dusty piles of New Deal-era collectibles?

OK, I owe you big for putting that image in your mind. I'm sorry.

But tell me that Recovery.gov image below isn't a conscious attempt to evoke FDR's cog-and-state-laden fascist imagery, rolled through a salad bar for a little updated Green touch.

For comparison, here's the image of the 1930s National Recovery Administration.

Eagles are a little passe these days (and maybe just a tad too evocative of torchlight parades) so instead we get a field of stars and a dot-gov to remind us that the government is our friend.


Thursday, February 26, 2009

There's nothing like a kid too neurotic to eat a cupcake

My family eats pretty healthy. We're big on fruits, vegetable and grains. I make brown rice instead of white rice -- or, even better, bulgur wheat (it's the awesome base for tabbouleh, among other things). We buy low-sugar cereals, lean meat ...

But pretty much the only protein my three-year-old will eat is whatever is found in hot dogs. So he eats lots of hot dogs (good ones). On a stick. Dipped in ketchup.

Whatever it takes. I'm not going to sweat it and I don't want him getting weird about food. And hell, they taste good.

But apparently not everybody shares my laid-back attitude toward good eats. From the New York Times:
SODIUM — that’s what worries Greye Dunn. He thinks about calories, too, and whether he’s getting enough vitamins. But it’s the sodium that really scares him.

“Sodium makes your heart beat faster, so it can create something really serious,” said Greye, who is 8 years old and lives in Mays Landing, N.J.

Greye’s mother, Beth Dunn, the president of a multimedia company, is proud of her son’s nutritional awareness and encourages it by serving organic food and helping Greye read labels on cereal boxes and cans.

“He wants to be healthy,” she says. ...

“We’re seeing a lot of anxiety in these kids,” said Cynthia Bulik, the director of the eating disorders program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “They go to birthday parties, and if it’s not a granola cake they feel like they can’t eat it. The culture has led both them and their parents to take the public health messages to an extreme.”
Nice going, folks. An eight-year-old obsessed about salt. That's the way to suck the joy from your kids' lives and turn them into neurotic freaks.

You know, it is possible to nudge your kid toward healthy food without making the process of picking up a fork a frightening task fraught with peril.

Here's a clue: There's no such thing as "bad" food. There are foods that are higher in fat than others, lower in fiber, have more sugar or more sodium -- foods that should probably be consumed in moderation. That doesn't mean a pulled-pork sandwich or a cupcake is going to kill you, just that you shouldn't indulge too often.

And conveying a laid-back attitude to your children along with some nutritional savvy will set them up for much happier lives than turning them into fearful little basket cases ever could.
Lisa Dorfman, a registered dietitian and the director of sports nutrition and performance at the University of Miami, says that she often sees children who are terrified of foods that are deemed “bad” by parents. “It’s almost a fear of dying, a fear of illness, like a delusional view of foods in general,” she said. “I see kids whose parents have hypnotized them. I have 5-year-olds that speak like 40-year-olds. They can’t eat an Oreo cookie without being concerned about trans fats.”
Terrified? Of food? That's weird and wrong. Hey folks, let the kids eat the damned Oreos. Then pry your overprotective talons off of them and send them out to play with their friends. They can run around and climb stuff and burn off the evil fat and sugar.

Now, excuse me while I go hunt up a corn dog for my son.


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A servant to our president

It starts off earnest, gets creepy, and then turns downright horrifying.

MySpace Celebrity and Katalyst present The Presidential Pledge

Don't miss the double bicep kiss at 3:19. Or the very special pledge at 3:55.

It's a shame. I've always liked Marisa Tomei. I wish she would just ... you know ... shut up.


Thursday, January 15, 2009

The most action-packed inauguration ever!

ESPN is covering the presidential inauguration? Live? Why?

There must be tackling involved, right? Maybe an extreme-sports version of the swearing-in where the new prez has to hang-glide to the podium and then get through a line of blockers before he takes the oath.

Or did the cult of personality just get a little more grotesque?


Saturday, January 10, 2009

In which I am foiled by a wireless modem

So we're talking the other day about a proposed family trip and how I'll need access to the Internet to keep current with my various projects. Do I hunt up WiFi hotspots? Track down an Internet cafe (do those still exist?)

Internet access is a constant concern. I've spent more money than I care to consider on hotel connections. In addition to my main connection at home, I pay a monthly fee for dial-up so I'm not cut off when a forest fire torches Commspeed's microwave antennas (seriously) or the pipeline squirrels are just in a bad mood.

Finally it occurs to me. Oh yeah, it's 2009. Why not get a wireless modem card and stop paying for all the other nonsense?

What a great idea. Sprint is even offering a couple of really well-reviewed models for free (except for that monthly charge, of course). Except ... have you ever tried installing one of these things?

My new don't-lose-this-in-your-change-pocket-sized Compass 597 arrived by overnight delivery. It loaded its software effortlessly. I then called Sprint for the activation code (required, presumably, so the UPS guy doesn't walk off with the widget and charge his porn surfing to my account), and ... nothing. The code doesn't work. Neither does the next one. Or the super-secret back-office codes after that. At the third level of customer service, the actual tech guy I reach concedes that the device they sent me is faulty and won't respond to the codes that are supposed to kick it into life.

"You'll have to go to a Sprint store to exchange it for a new device."

This is ... a bit of a challenge. We had a Sprint store in town, but it starved to death on the meager nourishment provided by the local economy.

"There are stores in Flagstaff and Prescott. They can take care of you at either one."

Oh joy. Flag is 50 miles up north, and Prescott is 50 miles over the mountains. Well, I have chores to run in Flag anyway. I'll go there.

So, I drive to Flagstaff, go to the Sprint store, and ...

"They sent you here? Why? We can't help you."

Ummm ... what?

"We're not a corporate store. We sell Sprint products, but we're a whole different company. We can't exchange something they sold you. Besides, we don't even stock wireless cards."

Let me digress a bit here ... The Sprint store in Flagstaff doesn't carry wireless modems? Why? Well, it's because there's not much demand. Sprint's EVDO broadband network isn't available up here (or by me, for that matter) so when you sign on using a wireless card, you get a connection no faster than dial-up service.

Oh woe is me, ya freakin' cry-babies. Unhappy because the fastest connection you can get to the Internet from the laptop in your tent in the middle of the forest is 56K?

Y'know, when I first got to northern Arizona just ten years ago, all that was available up here was dial-up, so I telecommuted over a 56K connection for a good, long time. Everybody did everything Internet-related over dial-up. But now that's not good enou--

Oh hell. Yes, I know how I sound. Now get off my lawn.

Anyway. So Sprint in Flagstaff sent me packing. I went home, called tech support, and explained just how pleased I was to be sent on a pointless 100-mile round-trip drive (I didn't dilute the message by mentioning that I had a nice lunch at the Beaver Street Brewery. Try the porter with a bowl of chipotle-ginger beef chili).

Sprint customer support has become much nicer since the last time I screamed at them, five years ago. The nice lady on the phone immediately apologized and promised to send me a new modem and compensate me for the time I've been paying for a high-tech paper weight.

The new widget is scheduled to arrive on Tuesday. I'll let you know if it's worth the hassle.

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Thursday, January 8, 2009

Where's my remote control?

It used to be a joke that some people were so lazy that they wouldn't get off the sofa to change the channel when they couldn't find the TV remote control. In years to come, nobody will get that joke.

I just realized that our new flat-screen TV has no external controls. Volume? Channel? Picture? You better know where the remote is, or the damned thing is just a bad mirror.

Would it be so hard to add a couple of buttons for power and volume?

I think I shall dispatch a missive to the manufacturer. Fetch me my quill pen and blotter!


Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Sanjay Gupta for Surgeon General? You're kidding, right?

Oh, I wish I was kidding. From CNN:
The Obama transition team approached Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN's chief medical correspondent, about becoming U.S. surgeon general, according to sources inside the transition and at CNN.

Gupta was in Chicago, Illinois, in November to meet with President-elect Barack Obama on the matter, sources said.

Gupta has declined comment.

All I can think of is ... Idiocracy.


Friday, October 31, 2008

Beware of anti-Buddhist bigotry

I realize that I've been meaner to Obamatons than to McCainiacs on my blog recently. That's partially a function of my expectation that the Democrat is going to win (it's less fun to kick a man when he's down). That's also a reflection of my disgust at the cult of personality around Barack Obama. Frankly, nobody but Cindy likes John McCain; people are voting for him out of resignation.

Enthusiastic mass movements around politicians scare the living shit out if me.

But I will relate the following story. I was at the bank the other day, and the bank teller volunteered that she was voting for John McCain because she heard that Obama "is some kind of Buddhist or something."

"You mean a Muslim?" I asked.

"Yeah, that."

I briefly offered that I didn't give a damn what god the guy worshipped, then just dropped the subject. I mean, I need my checks to end up in the right account in a timely fashion more than I need the pleasure of an argument.

A Buddhist? And, if true, that would be reason not to vote for him?

Tell me again why democracy is a good idea.

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And Obama will buy us all ponies, too

You gotta be kidding me ...

And the amazing thing is, I see Barack Obama about to win the presidency based on expectations like that, and I still don't find John McCain to be an attractive alternative.

Does anybody want to make an offer for my citizenship?

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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Kids 'spontaneously' sing the praises of Dear Leader

Did I, or did I not, warn you folks about starting creepy The Wave-style political movements for the greater glory of politicians? Now look what you've done:

Or see it here.

That's ... just ... wrong.

Hat tip to Reason's Michael C. Moynihan.

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