Journey With Sigourney 2
December 31, 2008, 3:34 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Earlier I mentioned Half Moon Street. By coincidence I’m also in the middle of The Year Of Living Dangerously, another Sigourney Weaver thing (maybe it’s good, I haven’t finished it, but so far…not impressed). Takes place in 1965 Indonesia amid romantic communist unrest. At one point the Mel Gibson character and his Linda Hunt sidekick get a phone call that there’s going to be a protest at the U.S. Embassy. So they joyfully go there and take their film and they are so happy to be there and it’s so great and exciting because wow that’s journalism!

This embodies quite a lot of what is wrong with journalism. Look at what really happens in that scene objectively and it’s basically some weird combination of nihilism (someone supplies a pile of rocks to throw at the embassy’s windows) and media preening. The Gibson & Hunt characters who think they are engaging in brilliant, exciting journalism by filming it and being present as these people mindlessly throw rocks, say things loudly, and smash cars, are, by sane definitions of the term, delusional (and possibly masochistic).

The whole purpose of a “march” or “protest” or “demonstration”, after all, is basically to seduce journalists into photographing the people engaging in them and promulgating those photographs to regular peaceful people in their living rooms. For decades now, journalists who rush breathlessly to cover such things have been convinced that when they do so, they are performing a service, good journalism, because after all, these are real events! This is history in the making! It’s so exciting and dramatic!

But it’s not. It’s a bunch of people who set out to get attention, to be amplified by the likes of you, as part of a grand-scale extortion racket (“do what we say because we’re angry and scary! Grr!”). And, too often, succeed.

Every other day in “the Arab world” for example there’s some sort of “demonstration” and video gets splashed onto CNN of yelping loudmouths chanting something or other and perhaps holding signs. (Oh no! Signs!) The implication is that we are supposed to be scared by it. Look at those guys! And how loud they’re chanting! Boy they must be angry! Whatever they’re chanting, let’s give it to them!

But in reality, what are all those screaming people actually doing that is in any way real or tangible?

They are getting on CNN. That is all. That is enough.

The really sick part though is that this is a symbiotic relationship. It’s clear that journalists get something out of it too.

Struck A Nerve
December 31, 2008, 3:17 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

You know what amazes me?

I still hear people bring up “Joe the Plumber” in conversation. Make jokes about him. Not only are people still obsessed with Sarah Palin, which is amazing enough to me, but they still feel the need to bring up “Joe the Plumber”.

Dudes. It’s over. You won. Give it a rest already.

I’m not really even sure what he said, but that guy must’ve really struck a nerve.

Stuck On Half Moon Street
December 30, 2008, 3:26 am
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If you’re as cynical about and tired of Middle Eastern politics as I am, an interesting thing to do for a laugh is to go back and watch or read some old movie or book from a long time ago that touched on Middle Eastern politics. Chances are, all the same issues will be present and it will be manifestly clear how little has been solved or progress has been made.

Conversely, if you’re a wide-eyed optimist about things such as the “peace process”, doing the above can be an important corrective.

For example, Half Moon Street is a (rather strange) movie starring Sigourney Weaver and Michael Caine. The main plot has Weaver, a supposed expert on the Middle East who works for some sort of “Middle Eastern Institute” in London, deciding to become a call girl. (This is mostly presented as liberating and independent, and Weaver appears to be attempting to look defiantly unsexy and unwomanly despite being nude in many scenes; the whole thing is steeped in a quaintly ’80s notion of feminism.)

Anyway, she gets caught up in Arab/terrorist/etc political intrigue in the process, because (it’s pretty clear even before the conclusion) she’s being used as bait to try to blackmail or trap Michael Caine. Why? Because the Caine character is a bigger “expert” whom the government turns to in order to negotiate secret, and fragile, “peace talks”, and the Bad Guys who Don’t Want Peace (and the movie is very strange in its hints about whom these Bad Guys are) wish to prevent him from Creating Peace with his ingenious plans for Talks and Negotiations (which, of course, it is implied he will do if only he and his genius are kept safe from the Bad Guys).

The good smart people can create peace with their brilliant negotiations and talks and summits, if only the Bad Guys will let them and stop standing in the way. This is all pretty familiar territory to anyone following current events and familiar with conventional wisdom. But the funny part is that this movie was made in 1986 and based on a Paul Theroux book from 1984. All the same assumptions and naive beliefs are there as we have now. Apparently the smart people are so smart that they haven’t learned a single thing in almost 25 years.

What really struck me, and what strikes me as more deserving of comment than it seems to get, is that in the film (as with real life) Middle Eastern politics are constantly being presented as something complicated and intricate (and of course important) that can and needs to be studied by “experts”. The rather obnoxious Weaver character is presented as someone of overwhelming brilliance because of how much she understands. One thing she says in a (supposedly brilliant and cutting-edge) “talk” she gives is that it’s cool for OPEC to limit production even though the Saudis don’t like it (paraphrasing). At another point in the movie she praises Kuwait’s “social services” (this was pre-Gulf War). This is the sort of brilliance that Hollywood minds believe can solve problems such as Israel-Palestine, you see.

About 2/3rds of the way into the movie, my mind started wandering, and I asked myself: why do we need so many “experts” on the Middle East, and so many “institutes” to “study” this (rather simple in its barbarism and not at all difficult to understand) place? What makes “the Middle East” so special? I mean, how many “Norway experts” or “Institutes for the Study Of Danish Politics” are there I wonder? My answer is: overeducated social-science people need ways to feel important and useful, and so they are the ones who create demand for roles such as “Middle Eastern expert”, and perhaps they are egged on and indulged by wealthy Arabs needing somewhere to shower their propaganda money. In other words, it’s not that the “Middle East” needs so much “studying”, it’s that a bunch of otherwise-useless people either need something to “study” or have too much money to throw at those who do.

To people whose views were informed by actual reality, the failure of “peace process” and “Middle-East expert” type thinking to accomplish, well, anything over the past three (four? five?) decades would present a challenge to conventional wisdom. But we seem stuck with the same old assumptions and beliefs. Our views about “the Arab world” are more like a mythology than anything else, and I wonder if we underestimate Hollywood’s role. They are our mythmakers after all.

The Attack Of The Small, Molded Plastic Objects
December 30, 2008, 3:00 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Modern Christmas appears to be 95% about giving small molded plastic objects to the children of all households.

Over the next several days and weeks, the children then proceed to spread and scatter these small objects as randomly as they can around the house.

The objects build up over the years.

Aliens who only partially observed these events would probably assume Christmas to be a yearly hostile act against the grown humans in the household. They would probably be surprised to learn that a large percentage of the small molded plastic objects given to the children are actually given to those children by the grown humans of the households, rather than given clandestinely, by their enemies.

The Coming Revival
December 29, 2008, 12:21 am
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Due to a confluence of birthdays and holidays, I now find myself with an iPod Touch and an iTunes gift certificate through no fault of my own. The iPod is a thing of beauty. I can’t even believe it exists. But as for iTunes, the whole concept of paying for mp3’s and, like TV shows still seems pretty foreign to me.

So how will I ever use of my iTunes gift certificate?

I have hundreds of albums on various media (mostly CDs, but a lot of “tapes” as well as old vinyl). Simply scanning all those albums into my library will likely take me years. And then there are podcasts which are free. So I will not be running out of anything to listen to.

What may change is that when (as rarely happens anymore) one of my favorite bands comes out with something new and I feel compelled to buy it (mostly to support the bands I like, I guess), perhaps now I’ll buy it on iTunes rather than physically. Perhaps. Although I can’t say I won’t miss having the physical object.

As for movies, there’s Netflix. As for TV shows, I have DVR to grab anything from the shows I regularly watch (which basically boils down to 1. The Office and 2. The Sarah Connor Chronicles).

So what about books then? I do read books, and I also hate owning books. Heavy blocks of wood byproducts that you have to lug around whenever you move. I do use the library, but you’re at the mercy of what’s in stock, and I always forget to return the books and end up with fines. Digital books are the perfect solution. And the iPod Touch actually looks like a decent vehicle for book-reading; no Kindle, but workable.

This brings me to the point of this post: Project Gutenberg. Thousands of books that have passed into the public domain are available for download – free. These mostly are pre-1930 books; they won’t be contemporary authors – no Dan Brown, no Harry Potter, no “Twilight” series, no latest cutesy clever Malcolm Gladwell confection, no “The Shack”.

Do I care? Heck no. It seems to me I could very well get by reading only what’s available on Project Gutenberg for the rest of my life.

I’d been aware of Project Gutenberg for many years but only now I’m starting to think it might have a real effect. It didn’t seem so important when “the Internet” meant dialing up a local server at 1200 baud and using ftp. But nowadays anyone with these reasonably cheap devices can download and effectively carry around hundreds of books at a time, many of them classics.

I don’t think the Barnes & Noble will be displaced by this anytime soon; on the contrary. However, what we may see is a revival of interest in many of the titles and authors who are public-domain. Looks like all of Jane Austen’s works are out there, but she’s already had her revival. But what about H.G. Wells, P.G. Wodehouse, Jules Verne, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Conrad, Kipling, Chesteron? Will any of these gain new cred?

Especially with the economy being what it is, why go to the Borders and drop 30 bucks on some giant tome by Neal Stephenson that you have to carry around when you can apparently download practically the entire works of H.P. Lovecraft and have them in your hip pocket? Maybe hard times + cool tech + capriciousness of public-domain laws + overexpensive books = 19th/early-20th century revival. Or maybe I’m just overextrapolating. We’ll see I suppose.

December 28, 2008, 11:29 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Ezra Klein is so disturbed by the following that he can’t get it out of his head:

[Hamas rocket fire has caused] No deaths and few injuries.

If I were feeling unfair I would insinuate that perhaps more injuries, and some deaths, would make Ezra Klein feel better. But let’s try to be fair. Klein’s real point is that Israel’s response to Hamas’s rockets – they are merely “taking potshots”, you see – is “disproportionate”.

Can I be the first one to come out and say that being “proportionate” is stupid? Or has someone else beat me to the punch? Because it is. There’s no such thing as “proportionate” in warfare. Warfare is about defeating one’s enemy. Never in human history has this been achieved by being “proportionate”. Folks who insist that Israel (but nobody else in the world) be “proportionate” in her dealings with enemies are, in effect, saying this and only this: Israel should never win. She is allowed to delay defeat, but not score victories herself, and certainly not win anything lasting.

What sort of mindset is it that views it as basically okay for one country to be “taking potshots” at another, with impunity, on an ongoing basis, with no repercussions, but then gets so disturbed by a military response that he “can’t get it out of his head”?

I just can’t get Ezra’s post out of my head.

Fun Fact
December 28, 2008, 11:18 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Person 1: The cartoon voice of Gargamel on the Smurfs, and Dick Dastardly, and many more.

Person 2: The first person to build and patent an implantable, artificial heart.

Fact: Person 1 = Person 2.


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