America's favorite trailer trash has been roundly denounced and derided to the point where it has become fashionable to defend her. Having overdone our criticism of this model of a sex kitten-mother-girl-woman, we must now critique the critics for piling on the misogyny.
Besides the important lesson that sloppy parenting is best done in private, Britney also teaches us a lot about art. Even if one knows nothing about dance or fashion, watching Britney's performance at MTV's 2007 award show makes it easy to understand what is meant by dance that is bad and fashion that is tacky.
PS - To the contrarian music critics who praise Spears' new album as a musical triumph — you are wrong.
October 27, 2007
America's favorite trailer trash has been roundly denounced and derided to the point where it has become fashionable to defend her. Having overdone our criticism of this model of a sex kitten-mother-girl-woman, we must now critique the critics for piling on the misogyny.
September 8, 2007
Stay tuned to the NBC downloads recently announced to be offered by Amazon's Unbox Service. The gist is this: NBC left iTunes over a disagreement about pricing. Episodes on iTunes go for a couple of bucks each. Apple says NBC wants 5 bucks per episode, but NBC says not quite, but rather, they want "flexibility in … pricing."
Why this is interesting is that it asks a fundamental question about the future of television: At what price convenience? And, who's convenience?
What is it worth to get a file of your favorite show? —a file you can then watch in a variety of ways, times, and places.
If you would download an episode of Heroes for 2 bucks each, would you download it for $5.? … $4.? … $3. … ?
Keep an eye on pricing, because the current episode price of TV at Unbox is also 2 bucks. According to Variety, Apple's idea is that if it were even cheaper — $1! — NBC would make up the difference in volume. And maybe cheapskates like me could watch two shows, without getting screwed over by my cable company. (oh wait, they're the ones selling me internet, too?!)
NBC is naturally affronted at the thought of giving the work of it's writers, actors, directors, lighting guys, etc for a measly dollar, but they are the 4th place network. But they also have The Office and Heroes, favorites among the downloading demographic. You know, those kids who also know full well what BitTorrent is.
September 4, 2007
There's a test of common sense going on in Connecticut. The story about the white powder that was puffed up to a terrorist threat is well worth watching.
A pair of fun runners used flour to mark a trail through an Ikea parking lot for their running club, and for doing so, they've been charged with a felony.
"You see powder connected by arrows and chalk, you never know," [New Haven Mayoral spokesperson] said. "It could be a terrorist, it could be something more serious. We're thankful it wasn't, but there were a lot of resources that went into figuring that out."
[What would be more serious than a terrorist?!]
While it's clear that overreacting authorities exercised poor judgement and caused a needless ruckus, what is unclear is just how they will handle the embarrassment. No one likes to be embarrassed but those that like it least are them that carry badges and are charged with keeping us safe.
Regardless of how obvious it is that the cops of New Haven freaked out, they will need to pin the blame on the fun runners. The authorities cannot be wrong, just as admitting they screwed up was just not possible for the federal prosecutors of Jose Padilla.
In the Padilla case, no evidence of an actual crime existed so the virtual crime of conspiracy was what prosecutors resorted to. Padilla was convicted of agreeing to agree to a crime in the future. But such preemptive crime fighting runs counter to the principle of innocent until proven guilty. By defintion, the only evidence that someone intended to commit a crime is heresay.
The virtual crime in the Ikea white powder case is "Breach of Peace," which appears in the Connecticut legal code (ch. 943, sec. 53-169 to 53-180) as related to "false information concening bombs." But the false information concerning any possibility of a threat was born in the misjudgement by authorities who mistook obviously harmless baking flour to be a dangerous substance.
If authorities possessed even rudimentary knowledge of the still unsolved(!) anthrax attacks of Fall 2001, they never would have sounded the alarm that they did.
They would have known that anthrax spread by hand in an outdoor setting would be most dangerous to those handling it, and that the anthrax powder sent in the mail in 2001 was not even white colored but brown and granular in its consistency.
Apparently, securing the homeland doesn't include resources like Wikipedia, and doesn't require common sense either, at least not when you can charge innocent people with fake crimes.
August 22, 2007
I'd like to welcome you with this suggestion: we should have an agency whose mission it is to help ensure the safety of our food and drugs. I know there's something called the "Food and Drug Agency," but it's clear that their charter is strictly one of reassurance, and they exist mainly to calm jittery markets, like the Federal Reserve Bank does in the realm of finance.
For example, in the aftermath of the deaths of scores of pets from melamine-tainted food, when it was revealed that pigs raised for human consumption had also consumed the poison, the FDA stepped in to tell us "hog meat (is) safe to eat, testing shows." Take note of how relieved you feel after reading this excerpt:
Testing confirms that meat from these hogs is safe for human consumption... that there is very low risk of human illness from eating such meat.
From time to time it may prove unfeasible to paint a smiley face on some problem that crops up, like contaminated spinach or canned chili that could cause botulism. Fortunately, the news cycle is refreshed so frequently these days, these things tend to blow over quickly and the only people who remember are the relatively few families of those who were killed.
Though a morass of regulations exists to control the sale of dietary supplements, certain non-specific quasi-medical statements are permitted. The result? Indistinct claims of vaguely healthful-sounding properties that confer supernatural powers to dietary supplements and give those who are ill and those who are merely hypochondriacs equal-opportunity expectations for amelioration of their afflictions.
Often encountered in the wild is a species of vapid gibberish that tries to evoke a complete theoretical framework to account for its existence. I found this in a brochure I picked-up from my local health food store:
FOOD IS THE KEY TO NUTRIENT UTILIZATION
FoodState nutrients have potencies as found in FOOD which facilitates absorption and reduces potential for side-effects.
Doesn't it make you wonder 'why not just eat food?'
Acting as enablers in this tableau are news outlets that obfuscate as efficiently as they illuminate.
Results from studies of widely-varying significance take on similar weight when they are reported without sufficient context and critique. How is anyone supposed to reconcile a study purporting to show the anti-cancer properties of beta-carotene with another showing its pro-cancer properties?
Bottom line: Some good research—mostly involving beta carotene from the diet—suggests that beta carotene could lower the risk of cancer and possibly other diseases...Then came two first-rate studies showing that beta carotene supplements could cause serious harm, at least in smokers.
It's in this spirit of "everything is true and its opposite" that I return to the question "does diet soda make you fat?" There are a couple of studies that would tend to support an answer in the affirmative. One, from Sharon P. Fowler, MPH, and colleagues at the University of Texas Health Science Center, San Antonio used data that was collected for 8 years.
Now, here is the interesting thing about science: sometimes something that seems completely obvious can be shown to be incorrect.
In keeping with the open-minded approach of a dedicated researcher, this is Ms. Fowler's reaction to her own findings, as reported at an annual meeting of the American Diabetes Association in San Diego:
What didn't surprise us was that total soft drink use was linked to overweight and obesity. What was surprising was when we looked at people only drinking diet soft drinks, their risk of obesity was even higher.
Contrast that with analysis given by well-known diet guru Dr. Dean Ornish:
"There is no plausible physiological mechanism to explain this, and that causes me to question the accuracy of the methodologies used in this study."
Does he undercut this position with his role as a consultant to PepsiCo and chairman of its Health and Wellness Advisory Board? No more so than he undercuts his advocacy of a low-fat diet for heart health with his appearance on the McDonald's web site.
Frankly, Dr. Ornish, it makes you look like a corporate shill, endowed with the power to turn fish oil into snake oil. No offense intended.
So there it is, a complete interlocking system of news outlets, celebrity diet doctors, unscrupulous supplement manufacturers and willfully uninformed consumers. Maybe we deserve the FDA we've got.
For more information on the questionable validity of vitamin consumption, have a look at this BBC trailer:
August 6, 2007
There have been some spectacular falls in the news lately, and for those into gravity impact porn, the following videos provide ample pleasure.
But another fall, just as painful, is the plummet of those formerly known as working Americans and their wages.
If this is the case in Washington, hotbed of tech, trade, and transportation, it's probably not better in the rest of the country.
Summary of the summary:
• The fastest growing jobs categories are in retail, hospitality, agriculture and social services, which are at the lowest ends of the pay scale.
• 46% of jobs pay less then $10/hr, and less than 25% of the jobs pay above $15/hr.
• Even if some numbers classify our economy as in recovery, the highest paying sectors — telecom, electronics manufacturing, and air transportation — continue to cut jobs.
What this means is that if you lose your job to cost-cutting by the Board or CEO, you'll make less money if you find a job at all. And that job will probably be in the service sector, not in the field for which you spent the first half of your life preparing.
Don't even think about getting sick, and forget about your career in skateboarding.
July 13, 2007
An article in the Los Angeles Times made me think of the old days. Because nothing is new, and Bush ripped his moves from the playbook of the Nazi Party, I could not help thinking of Hitler when I read of how Congress' attempt to enforce the law against White House malfeasance is being scuttled by a Justice Department that puts the president above the Law.
The essential brilliance in Hitler's political skill is the same as our current president's. With a nation fearful of terrorism, co-opt the legal apparatus first, and all other power will follow. As is painfully clear, our elected legislators matter not a wot, if the Department of Justice ignores them.
The scandal that began with the sacking of attorneys at the DoJ is about the White House attempt to secure lasting power to the Republican Party despite the outcomes of future elections. What we who oppose this coming fascism need to fear, as (some) Democrats do their best to slow the process, is an event to parallel the 1933 arson attack on the Reichstag. The leaders of both, the Nazi party, and the Project for the New American Century knew that a national emergency will allow citizens to give up their civil liberties.
Two weeks after the fire, Hitler obtained the 2/3 majority from the German Congress that made him the dictator and above all constitutional constraints.
July 11, 2007
We are accustomed to the White House denying what 71% of Americans believe is the truth, which is that Bush's war in Iraq is a lost and hopeless cause. But there's a deeper truth that we have yet to consider.
Leaving Iraq is impossible. It cannot be done. Therefore, it will not happen; we will never leave Iraq.
Even if we put aside the moral dilemma of deserting a civil war for which we bear full responsibility, how could the operation even be executed? The road to Kuwait would be a shooting gallery for the gloating insurgency. The Neo-Cons are haunted by the image of the helicopter on a Saigon rooftop, but everything about Vietnam looks quaint compared to our current wars.
Then, there's the question of the will to leave Iraq. The planners of this war never considered failure, and the plans are going ahead as if this deadly fiasco was actually a success. For example, consider the massive embassy, such frightening hubris. The planners never planned on leaving Iraq, and so, inertia has assigned her heavy weight. We are stuck there.
June 19, 2007
Watching the sublimely perfect Soprano's farewell episode got me thinking about Ken Burns.
Why? Because no one told David Chase how he should finish his movie. He gets to sing "I did it my way." Not so for Ken Burns, who has been pressured by Latino activists and even the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to include more Hispanic perspectives in his documentary "The War", a history of WWII.
Mr. Burns, in precise form, supplied the standard auteur response: "It would be destructive, like trying to graft an arm onto your child,'' he said. ''It would destroy the film.'' A few weeks later, he himself performed the grafting procedure.
It must be challenging to be forced to learn the first two rules of filmmaking at such an advanced stage of your career, and I, for one, feel his pain. For uninitiates who are curious about these two rules, here they are:
#1: Every filmmaker has a client. The client is the person who can capriciously change your masterful handiwork without notice, transforming it in one swipe from art object to shameful hack job. The client has something the filmmaker needs(money). Some examples of clients are: HBO, CPB (hey- what does the "P" stand for?)
#2: Though it is not widely acknowledged, film and video are properly classified as plastic arts. Historically they have been captured on a physical medium made of plastic, for one thing, and, beyond this material classification, they are infinitely pliable in a metaphorical sense and are able to be molded to fit any content. Two important corollaries of this rule are:
a) there are a million perfect ways to construct any film
b) Mr. Burns' Frankensteinian claims notwithstanding, anything can be changed at any stage of the filmmaking process. Not all changes are improvements, but there are always equally satisfying alternative choices available. Gazing upon your creation and declaring its immutable perfection is hubris of the highest order.
Still, there are merits to his case. While "artistic independence" is largely a myth(see rule #1), there are occasions when filmmaking has to bear a burden from which other forms of artistic expression are largely exempt. Here I am reminded of Oliver Stone's JFK. Call it 'seeing is believing', the inherent verisimilitude of the medium can foster an expectation that what you see is truthful. Compounding the problem, Stone's use of the Zapruder film thrust the issue in your face. For many, the cathexis attached to Kennedy and his assassination was so strong that Stone's effort to stage a pitched battle between 'film' and 'the truth' was merely a churlish affront.
Yet the "founding myth of cinema" remains its invincible power of illusion. Perhaps one day, when moving holograms supplant the 2-D world of the movie screen, it will become more apparent that film never could depict reality. The best it can do is to appropriate it. This fact conflates the role of the director in the two genres, dramatic feature and documentary, genres separated only by a tissue of ethics.
June 6, 2007
I have no idea of her intention or ability, but if supermodel, Gisele Bundchen, continues to speak her mind, she could become the new spokesmodel for the feminist agenda.
At fashion week in (way Catholic) Brazil, she spoke out in favor of condoms …
"It's ridiculous to ban contraceptives -- you only have to think of the diseases that are transmitted without them. I think it should be compulsory to use a contraceptive."
… and a woman's right to abortion:
"If she thinks she doesn't have the money or the emotional condition to raise a child, why should she give birth?"
Last month, Bundchen admitted that when she was going through an emotionally hard time, she too, shaved her head like Brittany Spears. While the tribulations of the rich and beautiful are inconsequential to the rest of the world, there's something very genuine about this gesture of public disclosure. It's a clear confirmation of the pressure of womanhood (not that it needs confirmation). These two woman have only superstardom in common, yet their experiences are the same.
Gisele's a classy dame to be sure. She dates Superbowl quarterbacks and Academy Award nominees. When she quit her Victoria's Secret gig she said she had bigger plans. Her web site has the civic minded aroma of an ethic evolved since that of the 21 year old girl who agreed to hawk furs.
For us lefties, Gisele could breath a sweater full of fresh air into the Women's Movement.
ps - If Feminism is getting a new look, we may as well look again at the ERA, or whatever it's called now.
June 3, 2007
Cindy Sheehan may have had it with the peace movement, but Marine Corps Sgt. Adam Kokesh appears to be just getting started. He and 14 others were arrested for unlawful assembly while staging a mock military funeral in the Hart Senate Office Building.
At the hearings of Alberto Gonzales to the Senate Judiciary Cmte, Sgt. Kokesh editorialized silently and graphically, and with awe inspiring biceps.
Brian Haw marks time as a protest and entered his 6th year of camping in front of the Parliament building in London.
Artist Mark Wallinger brought the street to the institution by replicating Haw's signage in the marble halls of the Tate Britain after the police had carted away the protester's original installation. Wallinger's work was recenly shortlisted for this year's Turner Prize.
Last, but not least, full of rage, and not shy:
G8 protests - police car destruction attempt
thanks Crooks and Liars ; Wonkette
May 14, 2007
The date was December 14, 2004, and President Bush had just awarded the Medal of Freedom to George Tenet, Tommy Franks, and Jerry Bremer. In the President's words,
These three men symbolize the nobility of public service, the good character of our country, and the good influence of America on the world.
The BBC must have skipped out on the ceremonies because the next day they were busy frothing over this quote about Abu Ghraib:
This kind of widespread abuse could not have taken place without a leadership failure of the highest order," said Anthony D Romero, director of the American Civil Liberties Union, one of the groups given access to the documents.
The skirmish which followed Tenet's recent book tour, with demands that he return his medal parried deftly by a "Royal We" backhand, represent a missed opportunity to better understand the new world that is represented by the transmutation of this medal.
In a kind of reverse alchemy, George Bush has turned gold into lead, debasing one of the nation's highest honors in a bid to politically cheer on his failed and stupid war. So let's rename this award the Medal of "New" Freedom.
"New" Freedom is the freedom of the government to spy on its citizens without search warrants, to interminably detain prisoners without charges, and to rationalize torture with grade school word-play. It's a familiar list and too long enumerate faithfully.
Longtime hanger-on Attorney General Al Gonzales would be the next logical recipient of this honor.
I'm recommending that the Medal of "New" Freedom be crafted in a much smaller size than its old counterpart, and that it be minted from purest polonium-210. Hanging over the mantelpiece, it would pose no great hazard, but I guarantee- it will surely be a bitter pill to swallow.
May 9, 2007
Bush's war in Iraq is a failure, and those who think otherwise are fooling themselves. This week, House Republican leader, John Boehner, demonstrated the language of charade:
"We don't even have all of the 30,000 additional troops in Iraq yet, so we're supporting the president. We want this plan to have a chance of succeeding. ...Early signs are indicating there is clearly some success on a number of fronts ... By the time we get to September or October, members are going to want to know how well this is working, and if it isn't, what's Plan B."First of all, wasn't this supposed to be a "surge" of American forces? But it appears the DoD couldn't even get that together, and instead, we've sent a trickle of poorly trained, overworked soldiers to their slaughter.
Second, what are the 'signs of clear success'? How come no one can say what they are? What is the 'number of fronts'? — zero?
But they are wrong, and that's obvious to the rest of us. Part of the surge plan was to put US troops out among the Iraqi people so they could integrate and better understand conditions on the ground. But instead of breaking down barriers, US troops are exhausting themselves by fortifying their outposts into mini-bases. It's the only way they can stay alive.
This proves that counterinsurgency genius, Gen. David Petraeus, is wrong and therefore, continuing this war is a hopeless sham.
The most insidious and commonly heard term of the charade in Iraq is "benchmarks." This term refers to progress made by the Iraqi Parliament. But even the recently vetoed, Democratic 'time-table' bill refused to specify consequences for missing these benchmarks. Furthermore, the Iraqi Parliament isn't really a parliament at all. As a coalition of political interests, it's falling apart. It hasn't passed major legislation in weeks (unless you count their own opposition to US occupation of their country), and just as more young Americans surge their way to death and dismemberment, the Iraqi Parliament is planning a 2 month vacation!
May 5, 2007
A recent study suggests that THC can trigger psychotic symptoms. Researchers observed that experiment subjects sometimes experienced hallucinations and feelings of paranoia after being dosed with straight-up tetrahydrocannabinol. While this effect has generally been verified by countless millions of individual pothead investigators worldwide, it remains unclear whether or not this is a big deal.
Nervous Nellie schizophrenia experts like Professor Robin Murray at the Institute of Psychiatry might tell you this news should be enough to convince you to add concrete mix to your bong water, sealing it permanently and thereby sparing your jittery synapses any more damage. But this action would be premature.
Nature, which abhors a vacuum, apparently loves balance. Though she has packed a walloping large amount of THC into modern marijuana- and let's not fool ourselves, it's strong stuff these days- she has also seen fit to add a substance called cannabidiol. In back-to-back studies with antipsychotics, cannabidiol has shown promise in alleviating psychotic symptoms.
Professor Murray speculates that, because today's street pot contains so much more THC than cannabidiol, the psychotic-potentiating effects of smoking it would swamp any mitigating effects. Granted, this guy has a lot of academic schizo cred, but pray tell, Professor, where are your legions of psychotic pot-heads? Because frankly, I'll see your speculation and raise you a stack of anecdotal evidence. A very high stack at that. [Schizophrenia afflicts around 0.5% of the population. I personally know more pot smokers than that.]
Nevertheless, let me be generous and give you that one, Professor. I don't need it to make my point. THC content of marijuana hasn't doubled over the last ten years because of random mutations, it's been the result of market-driven horticultural perseverance. After all, marijuana is a huge cash crop, and, in the absence of government regulation, is guided by the Invisible Hand to meet the demands of the market ever more closely. So, in some sense the market has been asking for stronger and stronger pot and this has equated to greater percentages of THC.
I suggest we treat reefer madness with good old pot. Paradoxical? Think again. If contemporary pot has double the THC content of old-fashioned pot, we should try going back to the old stuff. But that's one of the major problems with criminalizing drugs: you never really know what's in them. Greater awareness of the mental health risks of high-THC pot could lead growers to hybridize varieties with increased cannabidiol levels. Does this sound patently absurd? Hey, if McDonald's can be compelled to make a trans-fat-free French fry, anything is possible.
ps- i am not high. if you require proof, furnish a SASE and i will forward a lock of hair for testing. sorry, no urine will be shipped.
May 4, 2007
When we heard about massive systematized cheating at Duke University's business school, many lamented the state of today's youth. How is it they think they can get away with such breaches of integrity, we asked with indignant rhetoric.
But our entire culture is now a perversion of right and wrong.
These are not young people cheating at Duke, but rather students whose average age is 29 years, and they are completely normal. A study from Rutgers University found that about half of all graduate students admit to cheating, while the number of undergraduates confessing to cheating is about 75%.
This is the generation which has long been of the mind that music, movies, and software are things that should be downloadable for free.
It's difficult to make a case for succeeding without cheating when so much of our culture proves otherwise. Is not the point of our most watched TV show, American Idol, that talent is not a requirement of fame?
Since 2000, one message has been very clear: Integrity is for losers. You can win elections without a majority of votes. You can make a case for going to war by lying about the evidence. Being qualified for a job is not a requirement of getting that job. When questioned under oath by prosecutors or congress, it's OK to lie. Torture is justified if your army is bigger. The purpose of holding public office is to enrich yourself.
So, of course we are a nation of cheaters. What is the incentive to do otherwise? Where are the plaudits for the upright and moral?
April 29, 2007
First, in the spirit of full disclosure, I'd like to divulge the fact that, until recently, I owned Halliburton stock. I dumped it when the misunderstanding which developed surrounding certain unintended KBR billing overages made me nervous. It's one thing to add extra sand to the concrete, after all Iraq has plenty of sand, but please, no-bid contractors, don't mess with my boys' MREs.
War profiteering has a long noble history in this country, and over the years it has created a lot of millionaires, so when the US marched on Baghdad to get those WMDs, I fought the feeling of being powerless over my own government the only way I knew how: I bought stock in corporations that manufacture weapons or otherwise supply our military.
I reasoned that, since my tax dollars were pouring into these companies I had every right to tap some back out. It's like springtime, when the sap begins to rise in the great sugar maples of North America. That is the time to pound your little metal tube into the xylem. Where is the ethical dilemma in that?
But now it's starting to look like a few bad apples are trying to ruin this war for the rest of us. Critical infrastructure projects built in Iraq by US contractors are "crumbling" even before the "Made in the USA" labels peel off. Could some of our corporate citizens have behaved in an unscrupulous manner? I thought Sarbanes-Oxley was supposed to fix all of that. Perhaps now we can rid ourselves of the onerous accounting burden of this typically liberal-knows-best legislation. It's a pity that Ken Lay isn't alive to see it.
As for me, I'm about to reinvest the money I made off of Armor Holdings, the little company that cornered the market on up-armoring Humvees, and I'm starting an export company. [FYI- Humvees are produced by a privately-held company and I couldn't figure out how to buy their stock.] I'm calling the new venture "Blackbush Trading Company." In 4Q '07 Phase One of the business plan commences, when we lobby Prince Bandar for the exclusive rights to sell Just For Men Gel to the House of Saud. We'll be doing our patriotic best to level out the trade imbalance in viscous black liquids.
April 28, 2007
This week in Alabama, the ATF uncovered a paramilitary group with a cache of weapons, but the newspapers hardly mentioned it. The AP wire appears to be the only coverage. Perhaps news organizations are taking their cue from the Justice Department, who's been quick to downplay their own bust, stressing that the "ragtag" group "had no apparent plans to use the weapons."
"They just have a beef with the government, and they stockpile munitions," U.S. Attorney Alice Martin said at a news conference in Fort Payne.With the same level of prominence given the arrest of the Alabama Free Militia, the AP's follow-up gives the group's lawyer a platform to tell the world that machine guns, grenades, and explosives are "much ado about nothing."
It's hard to imagine such a blasé attitude about an anti-government militia with a cache of weapons if the militia members were Muslims instead of these good ol' boys.
These fellers seem to be the right kind of terrorists. The type we don't need to worry about, and don't need to put on the news. These good terrorists have been no big deal to us for a long time. Did you hear about the abortion clinic bomber recently arrested in Austin TX? Probably not.
Or how about the good terrorist known to have planted a bomb on a Cuban plane that killed over 70 people, you know, the anti-Castro guy that is currently being protected by the US government? An American court determined he can't be sent back to Cuba or Venezuela to stand trial because he might be tortured there.