August 26, 2009

When Weasels Attack

Given that the entire global economy has tanked in the wake of unscrupulous lending practices that began in the US sub-prime home mortgage market, you would think that CNN, the self-proclaimed 'Worldwide Leader in News,' might chose to distance itself from mortgage lenders as customers for a while, at least until things cool off and the DOW rebounds a bit more.

Instead, CNN had sold airtime- for months now- to an advertiser called 'TMU,' which is running ads that deceptively mimic the visual style of TV news.

The ad begins with a swoosh graphic announcing 'BREAKING NEWS' and proceeds to an 'on-air personality' delivering what appears to be a news story. The typical elements of a CNN piece are all readily apparent: the over-the-shoulder graphic, the lower third, the crawl. They dovetail quite nicely with the lead-in promo for Anderson Cooper and the outro promo for Lou Dobbs. The ad shown ran on August 20, 2009.

An implicit association with the Federal government is apparent not only in the mention of the FHA, but also in the 'toll-free hotline,' which readers will recall was part of the 'Bush plan' to provide emergency assistance to those seeking to avoid foreclosure. In this case, it's a hotline to TMU. I never called it, but I may give it a shot.

I find this type of blurring-the-lines between news and those paying for airtime to be an inexcusable offence. If CBS can be fined for a Janet Jackson boob, CNN should be made to pay for this money-grab. Below I have appended images from the promos that appears before and after the ad, as well as the intro graphic to the next-up CNN story.

ac360CNNlou dobbs   

April 13, 2009

Operation Roast Duck Scores its First Success

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Merchants in Chinatown have been harassed for selling 'illegal' goods for as long as I can remember. When I first moved to Manhattan, I recall watching an exposé on the local 6 o'clock news about pet turtles that carry salmonella. It's against the law to sell them in NYC, and the crack Action News team managed, with their concealed camera, to film several of them swimming blissfully in a bowl, along with a 'for sale' sign and a price tag. An egregious offense, clearly suitable for 5 minutes of air time on a slow news day. They soon returned with their van and lights and the reporter, so they could pose the tough questions, but ended up merely chasing a 90 year old Chinese lady through the store and out the back door. The camera captured everything, except they failed to capture the woman, who escaped into the alleyways, so familiar to her from her many decades living there. On this day justice for innocent turtles and their non-handwashing prospective 5 year old owners would have to wait.

A few years ago, Mayor Bloomberg, Crown Prince of Capitalism, announced a crackdown on 'trademark infringement,' to protect the great institutions of retail, like Prada and Gucci, who need all the help they can get. While this crackdown had little effect on the roving band of West African men who set up shop on street corners, since, by design, they can bundle their goods back into a sack wrapped from the blanket on which they are displayed, the fixed retail stores of Canal Street experienced this new policing effort as a direct challenge to their business model. Change was in the air.

What happened is that they moved their counterfeit goods from the street displays and relocated them to the rear of the stores. That way the police couldn't readily spot them. Unfortunately, neither could their customers. And so, out of necessity, discreet runners were dispatched into street to mill about the sidewalk crowds. Any woman of shopping age would be approached, and stealthily, out of nowhere, an Asian woman would whisper into her ear 'Fendi bag. Fendi bag. Good price. Come in.' As quickly as she had appeared, she would blend silently back into the crowd.
It was a good plan and lasted a long time, but now, sadly, it seems that the mayor's hounds have caught the criminals in the slobbering jaws of Capitalist Justice. Whole rows of storefronts are locked-down. Lest the message be lost on anyone- anyone who reads English, that is- large fluorescent orange stickers proclaim the shameful charges 'CLOSED FOR TRADEMARK COUNTERFEITING.'

For me, the final irony is this: which factory in China where they make hand bags would be most readily-equipped to manufacture counterfeit Fendi bags? Answer: the ones that make 'real' Fendi bags, of course. And so once again, reality is the snake that swallows itself.

November 30, 2008

Here We Go Again

detail_GS_DHA_ARAI have said before in this blog that 'we need an agency whose overarching mission is to ensure the safety of our food and drugs.'

My point, one that I seem to be repeating a lot, is that our current FDA is more akin to a trade association. It's natural instincts are to downplay risks to prevent undue harm to large corporations, during which time great harm could be ensuing amongst the public at-large.

Here, for example is a quote from agency spokesperson, Judy Leon, concerning the recent discovery of melamine contamination in baby formula.  You'll detect that the reflex action of the FDA is to conceal information, rather than to put out information and let the consumer make up his own mind about what is safe.

“There’s no cause for concern or no risk from these levels,” said Judy Leon, an agency spokeswoman. Ms. Leon said the contamination was most likely the result of food contact with something like a can liner, or from some other manufacturing problems, but not from deliberate adulteration. She declined to name the company that made the tainted infant formula.

The effort to withhold the name of the formula maker was soon abandoned, however. Perhaps the agency didn't want infants to be denied their right to gorge themselves at Thanksgiving dinner like everyone else, and so waited a couple of days to release this new and decisive statement:

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Food and Drug Administration officials on Friday set a threshold of 1 part per million of melamine in formula, provided a related chemical is not present. They insisted the formulas are safe.

The FDA had said in early October it was unable to set a safety contamination level for melamine in infant formula.

The standard is the same as the one public health officials have set in Canada and China, but is 20 times higher than the most stringent level in Taiwan.

The small problem alluded to is that the danger of melamine is potentiated  by the presence of another substance, cyanuric acid. While none of the samples of US formulas tested positive for both chemicals, chemsetthey were each found separately in single samples. Lesson learned: don't mix and match formulas! I recommend that every parent test each container of formula they purchase before they feed their infant. Sound troublesome? Let's just say you're going to need one fancy chemistry set. Oh, and don't forget this:

The agency still will not set a safety level for melamine if cyanuric acid is also present, said Dr. Stephen Sundlof, the FDA's director of food safety.

So for now, parents, just wing it. After all, if your baby drinks 25 fluid ounces of formula a day, in the first 12 months, that only amounts to a total of 9,125 fluid ounces. At the recommended mixing level of 4.35 grams of Good Start powder per fluid ounce that is a mere 39,693.75 grams for the year. For those of you who still despise the metric system, that's a paltry 87.5 pounds of powder. My baby drank 34 fluid ounces a day, so this calculation may be a little conservative.

Those who argue that the potential exposure to melamine set by the new limits is small can feel good about it. As for me, I wonder how extensive a testing program will have to be deployed to determine the breadth of contamination. And I wonder what 'safe' means for infants with special risk factors, kidney problems for instance. Right now there are no answers and the only advice the FDA can come up with is 'don't do anything differently, for the moment.'

Here, perhaps, is an example of the kind of straight talk we need from the FDA:

"This is a slippery slope of rationalization by FDA," said Urvashi Rangan, a senior scientist with the Consumers Union in New York. "FDA needs to get a handle on how widespread the problem is and, most important, if both these chemicals are occurring in any products. They just haven't tested enough to know that yet."

raduraForemost, we need choices, and the agency should be capable of offering the public an array of them, so the individual can decide for herself what comfort level to target. This is the problem that arises time and again, choice is withheld from the consumer, whether it be by obstructing Country of Origin labeling, or preventing complete disclosure of food irradiation with an icon-based sticker program. The Agency is making safety decisions on your behalf, but it is altogether unclear for whom their greatest allegiance is reserved.

October 9, 2008

The Ironic Rule of Law

With regard to the imminent release of 17 Uighurs from their indefinite detention at Guantanamo, the Chinese Foreign Ministry has demanded their repatriation, offering assurances that they would not subsequently be tortured, because China is a nation ruled by law and does not torture. Did they copy this from a US Justice Department press release? First they pirate our DVDs and now our legalistic dissembling? Pioneering torture-policy authors like John Yoo are apt to be pretty steamed.

The main concern for the US is that they be deported to a Muslim nation where no one speaks Uighur, as it would be unseemly to have accounts of their Gitmo imprisonment appear concurrently with China's pitching of itself as a human-rights friendly country.
The US task would seem to be an easy one if it weren't for the fact that Albania has to be crossed off the list, having accepted the previous group of Uighur detainees. I'm sure they are enjoying their greatly-improved living conditions in Tirana, but their comrades may have to settle for the Maldives. Or perhaps India will allow them sanctuary in the Nicobar Islands, which, though generally off-limits to outsiders, might open its gates if Washington sends New Delhi a nice little gift of fissionable materials.
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In 2006, U.S. authorities released five Uighurs from Guantanamo and sent them to Albania.
Now, though, the Bush administration has been having a harder time finding a third country to accept the Chinese Muslims. The White House fears the detainees could be tortured if they are turned over to China.
Qin Gang talks to reporters in Beijing, 07 Oct 2008
Qin Gang talks to reporters in Beijing
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said fears of persecution are not valid.
Qin says people who worry that the Uighurs will be tortured if returned to China have a "biased mind." He says China is a country ruled by law, and that Chinese law forbids torture.

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September 21, 2008

Krugman: Nostradamus in a Suit?

I read this when it first appeared and thought his analysis was an extreme worst-case scenario.

Of course, the reason I bother to keep up with Krugman is that his economic insight is always illuminating, even when I disagree with him. This time he gets extra points for seeing into the future. The date on the column is March 17, 2008.
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The U.S. savings and loan crisis of the 1980s ended up costing taxpayers 3.2 percent of G.D.P., the equivalent of $450 billion today. Some estimates put the fiscal cost of Japan’s post-bubble cleanup at more than 20 percent of G.D.P. — the equivalent of $3 trillion for the United States.

As Bear goes, so will go the rest of the financial system. And if history is any guide, the coming taxpayer-financed bailout will end up costing a lot of money.

If these numbers shock you, they should. But the big bailout is coming. The only question is how well it will be managed.

blog it

August 26, 2008

Simulated Fine Dining


Capgras Delusion is a psychiatric syndrome that manifests itself in this way: one morning a person awakes to find that the people close to him have seemingly been replaced by exact duplicates, each a perfect impostor in every way, lacking only in authenticity. It can happen also that one so stricken gains a sense that he, himself, is a mere facsimile.

Perhaps this is something like waking in Las Vegas, where the simulacrum of reality has appropriated the original, engulfing it in the way that one snake might swallow another. Any preservation of serpentine morphology asserts itself as a mockery, where the joke is on you. And though in many ways this can be, perhaps inexplicably, an entertaining experience, I am always left feeling that, somehow, reality is just out of reach. You grab for it and your fingers slip through handfuls of anhydrous desert air.

My bewilderment overflows its vessel at the prospect of having a gondola ride in a shopping mall. Nonetheless, I urge you to visit the Venetian Hotel and Casino. Watch the passengers, a fascinating demographic spectrum, from grannies with kids to mischievous intoxicated business travelers, all bobbing along peacefully as they traverse the 100 meter length of a concrete pool, led by the operatic whooping of their 'gondolier,' which echoes through the cavernous shopping arcade. After such an observation, I challenge you to compound your own explanation. Is this a representation or is it a real experience? The answer, I suppose, is that it is a little of both, yet surely one's 'willing suspension of disbelief ' must soar to previously unattainable heights to overcome the brute fact that the actual tour, through dyed and heavily-chlorinated 'canal water,' occurs not at ground level, but on the second floor of this miraculous destination-attraction.

Is it not delectable to imagine an abandoned, primordial, subterranean level, concealed beneath the verity of Venice, and what treasures, in place of gaming tables and slot machines, would now lie crumbling amongst long-forgotten ghostly forms of ancient pelagic concretions? For my part, I'll wager that more than a few American tourists would happily lob chlorine pellets into that renowned, opaque Venetian broth, which has steeped nastily for many more generations than there has been a nation called "The United States of America."

Some related ideas can be found in an essay by Ada Louise Huxtable, from her 1997 book The Unreal America, where she deconstructs Las Vegas at some length in a chapter originally appearing in the NY Times, as "The Real Fake and the Fake Fake." Certainly I've unearthed a few of her ideas from my cranium here, however, in the intervening years since the publication of her book, events have unfolded that transcend the situation she described. Huxtable drew a connecting line between Las Vegas and art museums, the traditional "guardians" of authenticity. But the notion of "authenticity" itself has been mutating lately, and is possibly, even perhaps probably, headed toward obsolescence. Enough has been written about the innate property of the digital world to reproduce artifacts as perfect clones, so I would like to turn to a different domain, the subject of "simulated fine dining." Its essence is the cloned restaurant, a high-brow manifestation of the franchise-restaurant form we have come to associate with McDonald's and its kin.


My first experience with simulated fine dining occurred a number of years ago at Todd English's Olives restaurant in the Bellagio. We ordered a few dishes we knew from his original restaurant in Charlestown, MA. The food arrived, plated elegantly and bearing an uncanny resemblance to real food. But the first bite gave me a shudder, as if I had watched a dear friend metamorphose into a Madame Tussaud wax doll, the wisp of animation departing for parts unknown via unseen routes. I suppose it was akin to eating the sushi in the window of the sushi restaurant instead of the sushi behind the sushi bar. Not that Todd's Las Vegas crew had served us actual plastic, just that they had served us something that tasted like actual plastic.

And as regards sushi, I recall a visit to Nobu, at the Hard Rock Casino in LV, which was kicked off by a memorable delivery from a young, mustachioed waiter with a Nevadan accent. "Now if you take a look at our menu," he said with a modest squeamishness, "you will see listed the 'sushi', and that's going to be your raw fish." It brings to mind a quote from the Huxtable essay, where André Corboz describes a quality he names the "the poverty of the re-invention of the not-known."


So here we find ourselves in the 21st century, an era replete with simulated happiness, simulated arousal, and even simulated money- itself a mere simulation of wealth. And this, perhaps, is the nature of the schism that separates the Information Age from all that has preceded it. We have now entered the Capgras World, where everyone has been replaced by their exact duplicate. tags: ,

March 30, 2008

Shred Everything


fire_blog_span When the Bush administration finally passes the torch, how much evidence will they need to destroy? Granted, their brand of hubris has been marked by a willingness to perpetrate crimes in the light of day, but still, there will likely be troves of documents in need of rapid destruction. Look for smoke coming out of the White House. Cheney, I suppose, has already had to get a jump on things.

That's why I wish I lived in a society where Elliot Spitzer could have only been caught by his wife. Because, in the aftermath of the purge of federal prosecutors by that disaster of a man, Alberto Gonzales, the investigation of the ex-governor bears all the hallmarks of a well-oiled political vendetta. I'm not saying it is, although the fact that he was ratted on by a Republican operative does appear unseemly. At least Boyd R. Johnson III, the prosecutor from the office of public corruption, looks like he's a sincere crime-fighter. Unfortunately, so did Spitzer, for a while at least.

610xSo I'm wondering, where is the dividing line between police state and free society? Elliot Spitzer was taken down by the existence of detailed financial reports provided by banks where he held accounts used to fund his adventures. Prior to 9/11, the Bank Secrecy Act, dating back to the 70s and designed to identify money laundering, generated 205,000 bank reports a year, and now, after the various Executive Omnipotence Acts have been shoved through Congress by the Bush administration, that number has swollen to over a million. Presumably someone somewhere has the job to look at them and stamp them with the FBI inkpad. Maybe they just sit on a shelf and collect dust, waiting for their moment in the sun.

brando_shredder_1 Throw in a little complicity from the telecommunications companies and the portrait is nearly complete. It reminds me of the Stasi, and their obsessively effective information-collection network of spies and collaborators. When the jig was up, they shredded, by shredding machine where available, by hand if necessary. Where is the dividing line between police state and free society? Well, the Stasi used intimidation and tortured prisoners...  Oops!

February 21, 2008

I'm with her

Why would any guy think this would be a cool thing to do?

Woman realizes how lame her boyfriend is while thousands of fans look on.

October 27, 2007

Aesthetics Lesson: It's Britney, Bitch

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.

September 8, 2007

Now How Much Would You Pay?

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

Fear of a White Powder

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

Does Diet Soda Make You Fat?

googlediet-coke-hebrewIf you're reading this post because of its eminently Google-able title, you've come to the right place.

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.

050620_hogs_hmed_7a.hmedium 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.

033_2007_chili6 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.

supplement copyThough 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:


MegafoodNutrients in their FoodState have the inherent benefits of Vital Food Factors not found in ordinary vitamins and minerals.

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?'

sleeper copyActing 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.

smart choices copyIt'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.

ornishes copyContrast 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.

A seattle newspaper analyzed jobs data in Washington state (and here too) to find an unsurprising yet horrifying trend: Jobs that are being created do not pay a living wage.

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

How Hitler and the American Republican Party Seized Their Power

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

There Is No Leaving

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

The Auteur's Heavy Burden

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

Sexy Feminst

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

To the People in the Street: Rock On!

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