Chipotle has new cup designs. Just to keep us on our toes, and to keep challenging the assumption some people seem to have that just because it's a McDonald's property there's got to be some deal-killing flaw in it somewhere.
My cup, which discusses secret unlisted menu items, says this:
As you consider your order, we invite you to embrace the variety, wallow in the options, imagine the permutations and combinations. Whatever makes it great for you.
I swear—only Chipotle could get away with making a math joke on a cup.
The patriotism thing is getting a little ridiculous. My impression is that what the left really wants is to make it out of bounds to describe anything as either patriotic or unpatriotic. Thereby making the word, and the concept, obsolete.
Well, sort of. I think the ones who raise a stink over the word "patriotism" really do think of themselves as "patriotic". They just don't mean anything like the same thing by it as most of the rest of us do.
It's not that they hate America. When they say they're doing what they do out of a love for America, as hollow as that sounds on its surface, they really mean it—it's just that the America they claim to love doesn't exist, and never has.
They love the idea of America. They love a nebulous, hypothetical concept, a vision of some America that might come to exist in some far-off future, where all the lofty ideals set forth by the Founding Fathers (who despite being flawed, muddle-headed, hypocritical slave-bangers somehow managed to come up with a few ideas worth building a country to achieve) have been realized to their fullest potential. They want to be able to say "Home of the Free" without any sense of guilt or irony: they want America to converge upon their vision of absolute freedom, where everyone is equal in opportunity and wealth and nobody "offends" anybody else with their pesky little beliefs, where nobody creates divisions in society by selfishly succeeding more than the next guy does, and where "culture" is reinvented every day with the systematic destruction of all the useless restrictions on speech and behavior that any previous generation might have misguidedly invented. It'll be a world where nobody has to work, nobody has to pollute, nobody has to eat animals to survive, nobody has to form corporations or make profits selling goods or services, and nobody has to cut down trees to build a house. And of course there'll be no more wars, because nobody who's truly free would ever choose to fight one. There'll be free access to all kinds of mind-altering substances, we'll all be polysexual and polyamorous and polygamous and have nonstop sex in the streets, and we'll all just laugh and laugh all day long because we're all just so insanely happy. There'll be no need to pursue happiness anymore—we'll have crossed the finish line of Perfect Countrydom, and the aliens will descend to award us all blue ribbons and convert us into beings of pure energy.
That's what a lot of people have deep in mind when they use words like "progress". The Golden Age of America isn't just something we expect to see in the future, as envisioned by David Brin and Bill Whittle: it's the one and only thing worth being patriotic about, and anything short of that vision is just a caricature, a cartoon of the real Platonic ideal that exists somewhere through the looking glass.
The trouble is that it isn't what America is now or ever has been, and so to the people who think this way (or who secretly believe something like it, way down deep, though they might never admit it), being "patriotic" about the America of the here and now means being satisfied with this fatally flawed mock-up of a country that's always been more about 3/5 compromises and KKKs and My Lais and Rodney Kings and Enrons than about any kind of true "freedom". Being "patriotic" means selling out the dream of Super Future America, then, and that—more than anything else—is what's unforgivable.
People who bristle at the word patriotism today, while at the same time ostentatiously and defensively embracing it, don't want to think of themselves as the kinds of people who will accept less than perfection out of a country, and thus they're more prepared to tear the whole thing down and start from scratch than to try to redeem something so tainted with original sin as our America. That's why nobody's protesting too loudly at the presence of Bolsheviks and anarchists in the midst of all the peace rallies: when they say nothing is more patriotic than dissent, they're outwardly thinking in terms of the First Amendment, but inwardly a little voice is suggesting that the only true patriotism is nihilism.
When confronted face to face, I don't think any such person would cop to genuinely rooting for America to be overthrown by Islamists or Communists just to prove a point, just to see us in all our hubris brought low before the forces of the Downtrodden Masses. But when I describe the idealized America as existing in some kind of parallel universe, rather than in the inevitable future, it's because I suspect that the nihilist-patriots believe we're behind schedule in achieving it—that we ought to have made it there by now. They're starting to think we're heading in the wrong direction. We're not on the right track after all, or we'd have made it to Vertiform City already. Every step we take, we just get further off course. So we can't be satisfied with mere "progress"; we have to break on through to the other side, smash it all down and start again, so we can be sure to get it right this time.
Think like that long enough, and paleoconservatives—which comes to mean anyone who believes the America we've got, with all its flaws, is our last best hope for humanity—start looking downright Satanic. They're the only things holding humanity back from achieving Enlightenment and Real Ultimate Freedom, from claiming our birthright in Super Future America.
Am I being too glib here? I don't know; it does feel right, since like so many others on my side of the aisle I spent a goodly number of years thinking along these lines, thinking it'd be dandy for three or four billion humans to just... sort of... you know, die somehow, because it'd be better for the Earth and all. A little bit of smoggy air obscuring the hills across the Ukiah Valley and I was ready to sign on to the auto-homeo-genocide compact. I have to imagine I'm not the only one to have gone through such a phase.
That was life in my boondocks, growing up. I like to think I've moved on a bit from those adolescent fantasies of nihilism; experience in the real world, seeing how rewarding life can be if you work at it, and seeing how much worse it is almost everywhere else on Earth and how much worse yet it's been at just about every other moment in history, and the cold-hearted pragmatic scientist in me knows that there's no better Earth we're ever going to inherit, and no better country we're ever going to have the chance to found.
But some people just don't feel that way. Here's Adult Swim's latest Boondocks bumper madness, courtesy of evariste:
We met Aaron's parents this weekend. Nice people. We can see where he gets his pleasant demeanor. What we don't understand is where the anger comes from. Oh yeah... America. [adult swim]
Booooga! Booooooooga! Watch out, guys—I'm America, and I'm comin' to getcha!
It's my feeling that if [adult swim] and Aaron McGruder are so terrified of what America is today, it's only because we're doing so much right that we won't have to destroy it all in order to redeem it.
We'll never be perfect; we'll never exorcise some demons of our past. But we'll be able to outlive the memory of them, and prove ourselves better than our forebears in the long run, without having to repudiate a word of their most fundamental ideals. We won't be Super Future America—we'll be 99.999% of the way there, approaching it asymptotically forever, never reaching it, but being able to live with ourselves with satisfaction nonetheless.
We won't be able to forget, but we will be able to forgive ourselves. And for some people, that's the greatest, most nightmarish treason of all.
There's an intersection near where I live—Branham Lane at Camden—where one of the four branches becomes an on-ramp to the I-85 freeway northbound (west). This intersection always flows nicely and seems well designed. I've never seen it backed up or blocked by an accident.
Yet I have seen so many people running red lights there that I'm starting to wonder what protective hexes have been laid over the people in the left-turn-onto-the-freeway lane on Camden that they can do so with such impunity, and whether this can be applied to other, more dangerous intersections.
It's gotten to the point where if I'm sitting at a red light across that intersection, I have a better than 50/50 chance of seeing someone run the red so he can turn and get on the freeway. A few days ago, I was on Camden heading south, and I stopped at the light (first in line); I watched the lined-up cars opposite me take the left turn onto the on-ramp, and then my light went green. But I hung back at the line for at least three seconds, because there were two people still in the intersection, turning left... and when they were finally clear, I still didn't take off, because I knew someone else would go blasting out into the left turn right in front of me, a good three seconds after the light had changed. The cars to the left and right of me surged forward... and immediately they had to slam on their brakes and lean on their horns, because sure enough, someone in a BMW came sailing right through the red light, turning left in front of us, not even particularly hurriedly. He was driving as though his light was green. And yet he would have been creamed if the guys going in my direction hadn't been quick to stop. In fact, if I'd bolted right off the line when my light went green, I'd have been right in the perfect position to become his new hood ornament.
Just this morning I was turning left onto the freeway in that charmed lane, and the light turned yellow as I was clearing the intersection; a few seconds later, I heard horns honking behind me, and in my mirror I saw another BMW sitting confusedly in the middle of the intersection, at a stop, his blinker on, while the cars opposite him threaded their way around him. I couldn't see into the car, and I'm reluctant to anthropomorphize, but I couldn't help but think it looked like some Marie Antoinette figure holding up her petticoats, sneering in contempt as mice ran around her ankles. How dare they!
I'm tempted, one of these days, to take a day off work; I'll go down to that intersection, hide in the bushes next to the on-ramp, and every time I see someone come hurtling out into the intersection against the light, especially if he gets marooned in the middle, I'll hold up a big placard that says, DON'T RUN THIS RED LIGHT, YOU MORON!!!
Not that it would help anything but my sense of wounded justice.
12:37 - It's like being "slightly pregnant", right?
I generally like to assume, when I see some human contrivance that looks totally stupid to me, that there's something I don't know about the story. I figure things are done for a reason. If it looks moronic to me at first glance, I have to remind myself that it probably went through multiple focus groups and marketing review panel meetings, staffed by people making six-figure salaries and with long fruitful careers behind them that could only have happened if they'd done well in school and at least started out life being moderately intelligent—and if not, at least there are others in the room that would have corrected the most glaring stupidities. That way, when I see something like USB 2.0 being officially designated "USB 2.0 Hi-Speed" and USB 1.1 retroactively renamed "USB 2.0 Full-Speed", my first reaction is to try to find corroboration before I believe something could be that hilariously silly. And even if it turns out to be for real, I like to hold out hope that eventually the perpetrators will come to their senses. I find humans are on balance pretty reliable that way, all gut instincts to the contrary notwithstanding.
So when I see something like the new economy cars labeled PZEV... which stands for Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle...
... which I can only assume is like saying "94% fat free" ...
... Or "mostly dead" ...
... I don't know a good way to finish this thought.
What is it with people not comprehending the concept of "journalism" lately?
We've got Mary Mapes, incapable of distinguishing a Microsoft Word printout from a Vietnam-era typewriter page, but steeped in the art of professing wounded victimhood, wrapping herself in the J-word as though it confers untouchability:
Perhaps her greatest fury is reserved for the “vicious” bloggers who pounced on the “60 Minutes II” report within hours—and who she believes provided the map that major news organizations, including The Washington Post, essentially followed.
“I was attacked, Dan was attacked, CBS was attacked 24 hours a day by people who hid behind screen names,” Mapes said. “I may be a flawed journalist, but I put my name on things."
. . .
Despite her career implosion, Mapes hopes to stay in journalism. “It’s what I’m good at,” she said. “I like making a difference."
Saying you're "good at journalism" while being unable to dig up names like Charles Johnson and Scott Johnson sounds an awful lot like Rain Man muttering about being an excellent driver. More hilarious takedowns here and here.
And now, as though to deepen the self-parody, here's the director-general of France's TF1 channel, explaining journalists' duty to political impartiality:
One of France’s leading TV news executives has admitted censoring his coverage of the riots in the country for fear of encouraging support for far-right politicians. Jean-Claude Dassier, the director general of the rolling news service TCI, said the prominence given to the rioters on international news networks had been “excessive” and could even be fanning the flames of the violence.
Mr Dassier said his own channel, which is owned by the private broadcaster TF1, recently decided not to show footage of burning cars.
“Politics in France is heading to the right and I don’t want rightwing politicians back in second, or even first place because we showed burning cars on television,” Mr Dassier told an audience of broadcasters at the News Xchange conference in Amsterdam today.
“Having satellites trained on towns across France 24 hours a day showing the violence would have been wrong and totally disproportionate ... Journalism is not simply a matter of switching on the cameras and letting them roll. You have to think about what you’re broadcasting,” he said.
There was a guy on the streetcorner today on the way to the store, in a suit and a Schwarzenegger mask, waving a sign that said, "I WANT TO SHUT... YOU UP!"
Clever, I suppose, as long as you're an SNL fan. But for someone who's had to sit through all the interminable radio ads for Proposition 75, which the guy is referring to, it's a little less than persuasive.
The proposition amounts to making it so union members having their dues used for political campaigns is an opt-in process, not an opt-out one. That's it.
Union members would have to give their okay for their dues to be used by the union leaders in political campaign contributions. So allegedly, union members would be given the extra opportunity to have their money used according to their own wishes, if they were to do something so brash as (gasp!) support a candidate or measure other than what the union supports.
But of course that's not the aspect that the radio ads focus on. According to them, this is a nefarious scheme by Arnie to "shut unions up".
Which I guess is an admission that the union members who would now have to take the thirty seconds to check the "opt-in" box on their union mailings are too lazy to do so.
According to the ads, if 75 passes, "It'll be like the bad old days out here. People getting hurt, no health coverage..." why, before you know it, the weekend will be abolished and we'll have eight-year-olds working in textile mills again. All because they made us have to opt-in for the unions to give our money to the campaigns they support.
To a point, it's transparent that there's more behind the proposition than giving union members more choice. Schwarzenegger's stated goal with this proposition, or at least with the agenda of which it's a part, is to break down the impenetrable defenses of the California public teacher's union—so that incompetent teachers can be fired instead of being given Special Person's Tenure. Which might, just might, do something about the fact that California is 46th in the country when it comes to the smartness of our kids.
Wouldn't want those kids to grow up smart enough to be able to make a check mark in a little box on a union mailing. Or read the necessary cheerleading boilerplate on the mailing and decide for themselves whether they agree with it.
Let alone to be able to get good enough jobs that they don't need unions.
UPDATE: It's a shame that 75's proponents can't use any of the argumentative tactics or rhetorical devices that are available to its opponents. After all, if it weren't for the fact that the unions' contributions go by default toward the Democratic side of things, a Democrat governor could have proposed this very same bill and couched it as being all about workers' rights to control their political voices without fear of retribution.
Under an opt-out system, as it is now, the unions don't have to sell the idea of using member dues for campaign contributions to the workers whose money they're using. They don't even have to make it very clear to them that they can opt-out. There's no incentive for them to do so—quite the contrary. And if they sent everyone a mailing with a detachable form with a check-box on it and a signature line, saying, "Please check here and sign here and return the card if you don't want us using your money to contribute to the candidates we like"—it's easy to see why a worker wouldn't want to do so, even if he strenuously disagreed with who or what the union was endorsing. Those little signed cards become an instant dossier of union members who aren't "team players"; if the union in question has even the slightest bullying tendency, it could then go right down the handy list and make life very difficult for everyone who signed his name. And even if they weren't inclined to be so "gangland", the signed cards or the mailings could always be "mysteriously lost". Who's to say the person sent in the opt-out card? The union never received it. Funny, that.
But if the system is changed to opt-in, then the union has to advertise. It has to make sure those mailings get to the members. It has to make sure the members are sold on the candidates or propositions it wants to spend their money on. It has to convince members to let them use that money. And if a signed and checked-off card is "mysteriously lost", why, that's the worker's prerogative, not the union's. A worker who doesn't want to opt-in, and who doesn't want to be identified as a dissenter in the ranks, can exercise that right by simply throwing out the mailing. Who's to say he ever received it? Funny, that.
The unions currently opposing the proposition (using, naturally, all their members' money, as under current rules they can) can't argue from the standpoint of "protecting workers' voices" or "preventing union bullying". Those perspectives aren't on their side. But neither is it on the side of a Republican governor, who nobody would believe would have introduced the proposition for those reasons alone. So they have to go with the "Arnie's shutting you up" angle, and the "We're all going to get our arms chopped off by unsafe power tools and we won't have any health insurance to pay for it" angle. Which are powerful, but disingenuous.
All it'll "shut up" are the people who agree with their unions only by default or against their will. And is that such a terrible thing? For anyone except the union leaders, I mean?
Communists rally in San Francisco, France threatens to become the flashpoint of a European civil war, and TBS gathers today's top comics for an environmental-themed stand-up-a-thon charmingly titled "Earth to America".
Good thing it's Friday. I don't know if I could take much more of this cheerful festive atmosphere on a work night.
It reads like an Onion parody, but it is real. Here's the :
Process of relaying a story having a unique plot
A process of relaying a story having a timeline and a unique plot involving characters comprises: indicating a character's desire at a first time in the timeline for at least one of the following: a) to remain asleep or unconscious until a particular event occurs; and b) to forget or be substantially unable to recall substantially all events during the time period from the first time until a particular event occurs; indicating the character's substantial inability at a time after the occurrence of the particular event to recall substantially all events during the time period from the first time to the occurrence of the particular event; and indicating that during the time period the character was an active participant in a plurality of events.
I have to say. They have at last invented a way to destroy all cultural development forevermore. That's an achievement of a sort.
That's right: they're patenting storylines now. Well, not even storylines—the means by which to sue over storylines.
If I know my clichés, there will be seven of these granted.
The nominees for biggest weasels of 2005 are posted on www.dilbert.com.
Vote now. It’s your chance to embarrass the weasels who most annoyed you during the past year.
At first glance, there seems to be an imbalance of Republicans on the list. That’s because you usually have to do something to be nominated. And Democrats haven’t done much this year, either weasel or non-weasel. The Democrats who did make the list are accused of not doing enough about hurricane Katrina. That’s what people mean when they talk about the exception that proves the rule.
In case you’re wondering, I have no coherent political views of my own. The only thing I know for sure is that I don’t have the information I need to make decisions. That’s the problem with having a degree in economics. Until I ruined my worldview with education, I saw the world in terms of things that worked and things that didn’t. Now when something works well, and the rest of the world is applauding it, I wonder how much better it could have been if we did it the other way. And when a policy turns out to be a huge disaster, I wonder how much worse it would have been if the other side got their way. So let’s all agree that I shouldn’t be voting.
I knew I liked this guy.
There appears to be the promise of many snickerworthy stories to come, along the lines of the one where he explains why a cop in a recent strip was firing bullets out of a donut. (Apparently nobody complained or found it odd. They probably just didn't want to look like they didn't get the joke.) This'll probably be the best bit of officially sanctioned meta-humor since The Pre-History of The Far Side.
LGF is keeping tabs on the number of appearances of the words "grim milestone" in the media surrounding the 2,000th combat death in Iraq. From all appearances, including MSNBC banners and photo montages at large newspapers (just scroll), the media here and abroad is giving the "event" plenty of play, and sober reflection makes it hard to justify its newsworthiness on any grounds but "the media wants to manufacture anti-war sentiment". So far Charles is up to 11 sightings with that specific wording alone, and it seems the story is only gaining steam as people start firing up Photoshop and eyeing layouts for the next Time and Newsweek covers.
Well, naturally it isn't enough for MoveOn.org, who sent this mailing today:
Dear MoveOn member,
Yesterday we reached the sad milestone of 2,000 killed in Iraq. But for the most part, the national media are ignoring this tragic milestone. The men and women who died deserve better.
Together, we can help make sure the media report on this moment. At more than one thousand vigils tonight, tens of thousands of us will gather to draw focus to this sad day. We’ve also added to our campaign a respectful and emotional TV ad that honors those killed in Iraq and asks, “How many more?”
How many more headlines do you need, MoveOn.org? How many more?
In my history classes in high school, when we studied the dark and spooky McCarthy era, the subtext put forth by the teachers and the textbooks was: Of COURSE there weren't any real Communists in Hollywood. Don't be ridiculous. It was all just a big circus put on by paranoid idiots who cared more about establishing their own legacy than supporting free speech. Communists? In America? The very thought was dismissed as absurd.
As it no doubt was in the 1940s; and it left the way clear for idealistic young people, trained under the same assumptions as I was and untainted by life in the real world outside the walls of academia, to board that tantalizingly unguarded train of thought:
A number of actors and directors joined the party in this era or attached themselves to well-known Communist fronts. Cagney, who grew up in poverty, explained his motivation this way: "What the hell did I know about the ebb and flow of political movements…. It all seemed so sensible: take from the overrich, give to the poor. Distribute the wealth…. At the time, left seemed right."
In a sense, it's comforting that so little has changed... but in another sense, it's maddening.
Internet collages threatening Denmark and daily newspaper Jyllands-Posten with death and retribution have begun circulating on the internet after the newspaper published caricatures of Muslim prophet Mohammed
Bombs exploding over pictures of Danish daily Jyllands-Posten and blood flowing over the national flag and a map of Denmark are among the images circulating on the internet after the newspaper printed twelve cartoons of the Muslim prophet Mohammed last month.
Daily newspaper Berlingske Tidende reported that the internet collages, posted in the name of an unknown organisation calling itself 'The Glory Brigades in Northern Europe', showed pictures of various tourist attractions in Denmark and stated that 'The Mujahedeen have numerous targets in Denmark - very soon you all will regret this', amongst other things.
Another picture showed soldiers, armed with bombs, over a map of Denmark, with blood spattered over parts of the country.
The front page of Jyllands-Posten featured prominently on many of the four collages. The newspaper has been criticised by Muslims for printing the cartoons, and was forced to hire security guards after receiving hate mail and death threats over the telephone.
The newspaper asked illustrators to make the cartoons after reports that artists were reluctant to illustrate a book on Mohammed for fear of Muslim retribution. The daily's editors said the cartoons were a test of whether the threat of Islamic terrorism had limited the freedom of expression in Denmark.
Got your answer yet?
Via LGF. The cartoons in question are here; I find this one particularly apt.
It's not just the food that makes Chipotle such an awesome restaurant: it's also the general atmosphere. Irreverent little signs everywhere, expressing sentiments from "Good for your soul and your nasal passages" to "Work where you actually want to eat the food".
Today, the maintenance truck was out in the parking lot (possibly to fix the acoustics? Naaahh); and it had this sticker in its window:
I love this place.
Thursday, October 13, 2005
19:04 - We're through the looking glass here, people
Following on to my reactions to Liberality For All, I suppose it should have stood to reason that there would already be plenty of alt-history angles on the War on Terror, many of them far better executed. One of them, Spiders by Patrick Farley (brought to my attention by Christopher J.), is just such a beast.
It's an immaculately drawn, expertly laid-out web comic that takes advantage of the online medium in ways that put most CSS geeks to abject shame. It's an exploration of the Afghanistan war under circumstances where Gore had won and a number of technological advances, far more sci-fi than what we actually did have, were available to the US military. It's a psychological thriller in a lot of ways, bringing up issues that have only a tenuous bearing on the real world; yet exploring them in intricate detail, to a level where they might have unexpected relevance once such technology actually does become available (even if circumstances are never such that it would be deployed the way depicted). But above all, it's character-driven and very realistic. That's the key.
It has everything that LFA is decidedly lacking, notably subtlety. Yes, it does seem sympathetic at times to the left-wing position, but you could also see it as being sympathetic to the jihadis, or to the hawks here in the real world who understand how impossible the situation the story describes really is. All those positions have rational representatives in the story, and all the positions have critiques in the story too. This is the kind of thing that—like contemporary adult-oriented graphic-novels like Preacher—a reader can make be about anything he wants it to be about.
To me, that's the mark of a really successful piece of storytelling. And it's so complex and so lavish, so character-driven, that I'd put this up with some of the best stuff I've ever seen under big-name labels.
Given some of the author's other stuff hosted at the same site (such as The Jain's Death), I'm sure he does have leftish leanings; but he's skillful enough that I don't mind or care. What's especially interesting is watching his artistic progression, particularly from this early, infantile piece; as the art gets better and more complex, so does the maturity of the thinking behind it—or at least, it becomes better hidden behind a real, live story.
Another example of this kind of progression, which I've pointed out once before, is Kid Radd. It looks like simple fluff at first, but it just grows and grows until it's every bit as impressive as Spiders or any other such project. And it's a complete storyline, too, so it really pays to follow it all the way through.
That's one thing that's going to be really fun about everyone's whole life being documented on the Internet: we can all watch artists develop in the process of creating each piece of work; and like the "dark star" personality-cult described in Spiders, we all get to be both passive and active players in the ongoing narrative of an artist's career.
(Oh, and I suppose it should go without saying that all these people seem to be Mac geeks: the LFA team, Farley... just look how many Macs show up in the art.)
I swear, you can't make some stuff up. I just got this e-mail, a typical form-letter link-exchange request from some spammer. I get these all the time, but this one's something special:
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I suppose that'll be the subject of an upcoming CSI episode.
Boy, I'm really not even sure what to think of this:
The people of Belgium have been left reeling by the first adult-only episode of the Smurfs, in which the blue-skinned cartoon characters' village is annihilated by warplanes.
The short but chilling film is the work of Unicef, the United Nations Children's Fund, and is to be broadcast on national television next week as a campaign advertisement.
The Unicef advert, which shows the Smurfs' village being bombed The animation was approved by the family of the Smurfs' late creator, "Peyo".
Belgian television viewers were given a preview of the 25-second film earlier this week, when it was shown on the main evening news. The reactions ranged from approval to shock and, in the case of small children who saw the episode by accident, wailing terror.
They approved this? You know, I once thought there was something about preserving the integrity of a given artistic canon, especially if the artist is dead and can't say yea or nay; this really feels like a first. I'm speechless.
The short film pulls no punches. It opens with the Smurfs dancing, hand-in-hand, around a campfire and singing the Smurf song. Bluebirds flutter past and rabbits gambol around their familiar village of mushroom- shaped houses until, without warning, bombs begin to rain from the sky.
Tiny Smurfs scatter and run in vain from the whistling bombs, before being felled by blast waves and fiery explosions. The final scene shows a scorched and tattered Baby Smurf sobbing inconsolably, surrounded by prone Smurfs.
The final frame bears the message: "Don't let war affect the lives of children."
It is intended as the keystone of a fund-raising drive by Unicef's Belgian arm, to raise £70,000 for the rehabilitation of former child soldiers in Burundi.
Philippe Henon, a spokesman for Unicef Belgium, said his agency had set out to shock, after concluding that traditional images of suffering in Third World war zones had lost their power to move television viewers. "It's controversial," he said. "We have never done something like this before but we've learned over the years that the reaction to the more normal type of campaign is very limited."
Yeah, well, lots of "art" is praised for it's being controversial these days. Often because it's awful, and there's no other way it would get any attention. Hey, art world? Remember when your goal was to create images that were, you know, pleasing to the eye? Is that even allowed anymore?
Though I guess if there's any lesson to be taken from this, it's an observation on how (if the UNICEF guys are to be believed) people in Western Civilization, particularly in Europe, are really that jaded about war and genocide and human suffering that these are the depths to which the shock-peddlers have to stoop. I don't think we're that far gone in this country, are we? I seem to recall some amazing numbers coming out of the fundraising efforts for the tsunami and Katrina.
But even if so, is it worth compromising cherished cultural icons like the Smurfs to make a political point? I doubt it. Especially since these things never work they way people think they will.
The advertising agency behind the campaign, Publicis, decided the best way to convey the impact of war on children was to tap into the earliest, happiest memories of Belgian television viewers.
Yeah, and in so doing destroyed those memories, just like everyone's halcyon sanctuaries will all eventually be sacrificed on the altar of Making You Think™.
Anyway, at least Tim Blair has a roundup of some people's appropriately incisive reactions. I guess at least that much good has come out of it.
Something Awful linked to this a little while ago, and after reading the quoted blurb I didn't even follow the link because I dreaded what I might find. Of course, that's usually the case with their "Awful Link of the Day", but this one was something special: a comic book called Liberality for All. It looked like it might be something I wouldn't mind seeing more of, but the part they quoted lent itself without much effort to plenty of their patented ridicule, so I shied away at the time. A friend drew my attention to it again last night, though, and I went ahead and gave it a more than cursory glance. Apparently there's one full issue nearly ready for release, and it looks (nearly) of professional comic-book quality; it's supposedly "getting major publicity in the talk-radio world", which I guess you could consider a good thing... but that's sort of the problem. As you'll see.
It is the year 2021, tomorrow is the 20th anniversary of 9/11. It is up to an underground group of bio-mechanically enhanced conservatives led by Sean Hannity, G. Gordon Liddy and Oliver North to thwart Ambassador Usama Bin Laden's plans to nuke New York City ...And wake the world from an Orwellian nightmare of United Nations-dominated ultra-liberalism.
Series concept: What if today's anti-war Liberals were in charge of the American government and had been since 9/11? What would that society look like in the year 2021? What would be the results of fighting “a more sensitive war on terror” and looking to the corrupt United Nations to solve all of America 's problems? In Liberality For All , the reader sees a vision of that future where there is only one justified type of war…the war against Conservatives and their ideals.
Huh. Laughing yet? I'm not. Read the synopsis; it's even better:
America’s future has become an Orwellian nightmare of ultra-liberalism. Beginning with the Gore Presidency, the government has become increasingly dominated by liberal extremists.
In 2004, Muslim terrorists stopped viewing the weakened American government as a threat; instead they set their sights on their true enemies, vocal American conservatives. On one dark day, in 2006, many conservative voices were forever silenced by terrorist assassins. Those which survived joined forces and formed a powerful covert conservative organization called “The Freedom of Information League”, aka F.O.I.L.
The efforts of F.O.I.L. threaten both the liberal extremist power structure and the U.N.’s grip on America, the U.N. calls F.O.I.L. the most dangerous group in the world. It seems the once theorized Vast Right Wing Conspiracy has now become a reality.
The F.O.I.L. Organization is forced underground by the “Coulter Laws” of 2007; these hate speech legislations have made right-wing talk shows, and conservative-slanted media, illegal. Our weakened government has willingly handed the reins of our once great country to the corrupt United Nations...
Now, don't get me wrong: I would love to see an accessible fictionalized account of this alternate history, a visualization of the world should certain different events have come to pass, a nicely drawn comic set in a New York dominated by the Freedom Tower and an ascendant UN. I'd love to see a comic that tackles these issues and presents them in a way people can relate to.
But not this comic.
Why not? Well, just look at it. There's a five-page preview available online; give it a read.
In it you see that the intro material and synopsis aren't aberrations from the storytelling style—they are the storytelling style. This story really does center around bioengineered talk-radio host superheroes fighting an underground war against French occupation forces. Everything is peppered with cartoonish labels—"ultra-liberal" and "Orwellian" and so on. "Ambassador Osama bin Laden" and "Vice President Michael Moore" and Fox News bought out and renamed to "Liberty International Broadcasting" (LIB). It might be funny if it were intended to be, but it seems to be totally straight-faced.
In other words, it's a parody of itself right from the starting blocks, and so ham-handed that it may as well be a massive prank by people trying to paint conservatives as just the kind of knuckle-dragging buffoons who would appreciate this kind of slogan-ridden fiction. If its goal is to present a case or win over any readers to its platform, it's going to fail utterly—instead, any readers who aren't already thoroughly in its corner will just point and horselaugh, like Something Awful already has. And who can blame them? I don't have the stomach for this stuff, and I'm sympathetic to what it's trying to say. I'm downright embarrassed for it.
What's really sad is that there are some interesting ideas in here. Much of the storyline would probably be salvageable, if only they took a different, much more subtle tack about it. Lose the explicit "conservative"/"liberal" labeling of everything. Ditch the talk-radio-host crap, which makes it all sound like a big ad for Hannity and Liddy and North and so on. (Honestly. What did these guys do, pay for it?) Don't tell us what's going on, show it—it's as valid a rule in world-building as it is in basic writing courses where you have to train budding authors not to just narrate (for example) how much one character "loves" another, but to demonstrate those emotions through the details of the plot. The same goes for all the atmospherics of this story. A bit less caricature, and a bit more character, would do wonders. I can see something genuinely interesting being made from a world where the transnational progressivists have gained the upper hand and have brought European-style appeasement politics to the US; where bin Laden is treated as an "ambassador" and where street youth vandalism takes the form of nationalistic protest against blue-helmeted UN police on New York streets and what amounts to foreign occupation. But for God's sake, do it with the subtlety and the detailed trickle of back-story establishment that we saw in The Watchmen and Astro City, not with a cyborg superhero named "Reagan" born on 9/11/01.
I remember writing something about this sophisticated when I was a junior in high school; it was from the opposite side of the spectrum, but it was just as Jerry-Lewis-clumsy, the way only something can be that's written by someone who's never experienced life in the real world or a contrary thought.
I honestly can't imagine whose worldview this comic strokes, aside from the truly dim. I was told last night of someone's friend who was pro-war because she had the vague idea that Iraq was directly responsible for 9/11—and that it was located right next to France. Now, I will grant that it does not exactly make me comfortable that the pro-war position just happens to be the default sort of place that society's most ignorant stratum falls into, lacking the interest or capacity for independent analysis that would lead them to make an informed decision, and relying on the fundaments of blind patriotism to assume that whatever we're doing is right. Naturally I don't hold to the idea that the more intelligent and/or educated a person becomes, the more he inevitably shifts to the Left; there are obviously plenty of really sharp cookies at the top echelons of both political traditions, and behind both pro- and anti-war platforms. But does this comic pander to anybody but the lowest rung of the analytical ladder? Does it make a case to anyone who doesn't operate on slogans and epithets or who doesn't get all their political insights fed to them by syndicated radio personalities? It's a shame that it was written by someone who apparently has a pretty good grasp on the issues and how to construct an alternate universe based on all the relevant factors, and who actually had the gumption to get a project like this off the ground; it's just very painful to see the result be something this shallow.
In the end it does nothing but reinforce everyone's stereotypes of the kind of people who would vote Republican: hamfisted, simple-minded, pugnacious nitwits who worship name-branded cults of personality rather than analyze the issues, and whose appreciation of art has its high-water mark at Wheel of Fortune. And in the end, that doesn't help anybody.
UPDATE: If the goal was to create a comic-format defense of the War on Terror, this is more like the angle I would have taken. It's something I threw together in early 2003 when I was pissed off one day, which explains why it's so rough and poorly planned out and why I only got about 3.mumble pages into it. Also I realized it was too Scott McCloud-derivative. I'm not saying it would have been any good, but at least it would have been about the issues.
Also, I just kinda like how Uncle Sam turned out. Hee hee.
Yesterday the news "broke" that Houston, we have confirmation of God in the White House—and of course everyone from incoherent LiveJournal authors to the world's most widely read editorialists pounced. Way too juicy a scoop not to, right?
In Elusive Peace: Israel and the Arabs, a major three-part series on BBC TWO (at 9.00pm on Monday 10, Monday 17 and Monday 24 October), Abu Mazen, Palestinian Prime Minister, and Nabil Shaath, his Foreign Minister, describe their first meeting with President Bush in June 2003.
Nabil Shaath says: “President Bush said to all of us: ‘I’m driven with a mission from God. God would tell me, “George, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan.” And I did, and then God would tell me, “George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq …” And I did. And now, again, I feel God’s words coming to me, “Go get the Palestinians their state and get the Israelis their security, and get peace in the Middle East.” And by God I’m gonna do it.’"
Abu Mazen was at the same meeting and recounts how President Bush told him: “I have a moral and religious obligation. So I will get you a Palestinian state."
Now, it's funny: the last time I heard these quotes being attributed to Bush, it was in those TV ads solicited by MoveOn.org—entries for their "Bush in 60 Seconds" campaign to develop an anti-Bush ad to air during last year's Super Bowl.
GRAPHIC: Pictures Of Hitler HITLER: (Speaking In German) CHYRON: We have taken new measures to protect our homeland,
GRAPHIC: Pictures Of Hitler HITLER: (Speaking In German) CHYRON: I believe I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator,
GRAPHIC: Pictures Of Hitler HITLER: (Speaking In German) CHYRON: God told me to strike at al-Qaida and I struck them,
GRAPHIC: Pictures of President Bush HITLER: (Speaking In German) CHYRON: and then He instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did.
CHYRON: SOUND FAMILIAR? BACKGROUND: Cheering German Crowd
That was at the beginning of 2004, which means the quotations were in public view by then—they were first reported by Ha'aretz, on June 30, 2003, right after the meeting in question took place.
So from Abbas' mouth to MoveOn.org patrons' ears. That's the credibility trail.
And now here they come again. Only now it's "the distinguished and highly reliable film-maker Norma Percy" making a new BBC series, filming Abbas and Shaath as they recite what they'd said back in June 2003... or maybe it was just stock footage shot at the time—this part is unclear. If the former, though, it meant that the Palestinians had apparently really rehearsed it well, so as to make a good show of it for Percy's eager cameras, or else the quotes were accurate (or had been mangled by a "helpful" translator). I wasn't about to dismiss either possibility, though the credibility of the source material remains entirely outside the realm of what I'd consider solid.
I did try to dig up commentary from the news stories at the time that would have debunked the quotes; I was sure I'd seen such a thing in the outraged reaction to the MoveOn.org Hitler ad, but no amount of Googling turned up anything substantive. I did, however, find sympathetic articles defending the ads and claiming that the quotes were authentic (though providing little in the way of citations or evidence).
Well, now it's the next day, and the White House has issued its denial, and so has Abbas—so I guess the footage must have been shot back in 2003 after all. And even the people inclined to dismiss McClellan's denial out of hand would surely pay attention to Abbas'.
But that wasn't fast enough for every editorial writer from here to Timbuktu to register their horror anew at the quotes which have been swirling around the toilet bowl of the Internet's seamier underbelly for over two years now. They've just been bumped into the spotlight again, this time by the BBC itself, and I haven't yet decided whether it's sadder that the BBC's very credibility is what's served to renew the world's interest in them—or that that same credibility has sunk to such abysmal levels that this kind of thing hardly even surprises me.
It's one thing for Piglet to be banned, or a medieval pig statue to not be restored, or an ice cream lid design to be changed because someone thinks it looks like it says "Allah".
But what about the Union Jack?
Chris Doyle, director of the Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding, said Tuesday the red cross was an insensitive reminder of the Crusades.
“A lot of Muslims and Arabs view the Crusades as a bloody episode in our history,” he told CNN. “They see those campaigns as Christendom launching a brutal holy war against Islam.
“Muslim or Arab prisoners could take umbrage if staff wore a red cross badge. It’s also got associations with the far-right. Prison officers should be seen to be neutral.”
Doyle added that it was now time for England to find a new flag and a patron saint who is “not associated with our bloody past and one we can all identify with.”
How tied are Britons to their flag? How deep does it run in their blood? This isn't Winnie-the-Pooh... this is a thousand years of history and culture.
Is this the line beyond which Britain won't be pushed?
Eventually someone's going to have to stand up and say that if we're going to have a secular society, then that means everybody has to stop being offended by perceived religious affronts. And that means everybody. That's the social contract under which we live here in the Western world. If someone can't handle it, he should be politely but firmly shown the door.
Or, if we're not willing to do that... it we're willing to lay down and surrender, not just in the face of everyday citizens' religious complaints, but in the interest of prisoners not taking umbrage... then maybe we as a culture don't deserve to live anyway.
UPDATE: For reference, here is a post with background on how the "English flag" (the flag of St. George) and the Union Jack are related. Pretty cool, if you ask me. I'd hate to see such a clever contrivance lost to history for fear of stepping on the toes of people who put AK-47s and explicit statements of creed on their flags.
UPDATE: I wonder what George Galloway would have to say about this.
There's another kind of blogging out there. One that's rarer and more finely distilled than the usual stuff I tend to be used to these days. It's the rehearsed, episodic, often-daily but usually-sporadic sites that consist of story after story after story, often not-work-safe, usually hysterically funny.
But one thing that most such sites hosted by budding stand-up comedians have in common is that if they let their politics show through, it's never along the same lines as this:
They respond with lots of fancy, meaningless words like "exploitation" and "commodification." They also tell me I need to read Catherine MacKinnon, some Andrea Dworkin, and perhaps even some Michel Foucault. Those names set off a bomb in the bar.
I had tried for a good ten minutes to let it go, but with Red Bull and vodka coursing through my veins, and the names of the anti-christs being thrown around so flippantly, I let loose. Absolutely unleashed. I eventually start throwing out words like "fascist" and "not content to let people live their own lives" and "if you don't like stumpy people hitting each other, don't go see it" and "these are theories that only sound good or important to upper-middle-class-usually-white-people who feel guilty about their status, and have taken enough benefits out of capitalism that they have the luxury of enough leisure time to actually think about this crap and go to $35K/year schools to learn it.”
That's Tucker Max, and it's about as Safe For Work as it gets. It's lewd, it's crude, it's bound to horrify—but at a time when I'm starting to wonder if there's any such thing in the world as an articulate and intellectual comic genius storyteller (well, aside from this one) who revels in ridiculing "No Blood for Oil" buttons rather than in wearing them, I'm scooping this up like manna.
Also it's funny enough to make me gasp for breath while nearby people look at me funny.
The stories appear to be in reverse chronological order, so start at the bottom and work your way up. But read the "Classics" at the top first.
Why won't they give this guy a spot on Comedy Central? ...Aside from the two or three obvious reasons, I mean? He'd be like the Evil Dave Attell.
Additional Dimension Adjustment Disorder, or 3rd Dimensia, is a neurological disorder that strikes the brain and brain related functions of those acclimatizing to improved spatial situations. The telltale symptoms of 3rd Dimensia are befuddlement, soreness, pain, frustration, inactivity, uselessness, confoundation, inability to do things, fear of rooms, and death. Many people ignore these symptoms or mistake them for other, more popular disorders. Left undiagnosed, 3rd Dimensia can cause serious damage to you, your life, or your home.
Up until the late 1990s, it was commonly thought that 3rd Dimensia was only a disorder for patients dealing with 2-to-3-dimensional crossover. But today, scientists and doctors know better. Be warned: 3rd Dimensia does not discriminate. It can strike anyone at anytime.
This site was just advertised with a real live ad on UPN.
Some days I just know there's a hidden camera watching me, and a studio audience laughing hysterically.
UPDATE: Apparently, as one might discover by drilling down sufficiently deeply into the site, it's a front for gametap.com, some kind of Time-Warner-funded service that lets you play classic emulated console games.
Two-dimensional ones. Okay, I guess that makes sense...
This (via LGF) is one of those posts that I'm going to bookmark and file away for future reference. Not because of the post itself (primarily), but because of the comment by "cathyf", who says:
Up until about 10,000 years ago, man was a hunter-gatherer. The assumption always seems to be that he survived on the gathering part, while getting the occasional treat of meat when the tribe succeeded in bringing down some food. In fact, those that do mineral analysis of prehistoric bones tell us that our caveman and cavewomen and cavechildren ancestors ate a diet that was about 90% meat.
Then about 10,000 years ago we discovered how to brew beer. This was a huge improvement to our health, because alcohol is a powerful water purification chemical, and so drinking beer, and then later wine, gave us a source of water that was safe to drink. Before that the only source of safe water would have been broths.
So when we started brewing beer, then we started cultivating grain crops to make the beer. And pretty soon we invented bread, which became a staple of our diets that crowded out a lot of meat. We had to create significant property rights -- before this people owned what they carried with them, and so stealing was hard. Once we had lots of real property, we invented war as ways to seize other people's property. And quickly discovered that fighting was a way that you could subjegate others. Women and children were significantly more disadvantaged in the new order -- as hunters they were a far more equal members of the tribe, now they became property. The planting of crops destroyed animal habitat, and the crops had to be protected from the animals tromping through them, so the animals were fenced away from people's property, or they were domesticated. Meat became more valuable, and so access to meat became something that the rich had and their slaves mostly ate bread.
In other words, all of those evil things that the vegetarians are complaining about came about as the direct result of human beings adopting a vegetarian diet. :-)
Probably as a matter of pure serendipity, someone last night in the middle of a conversation that apparently needed to be made less fun forwarded me a link to The Jain's Death, a sequential graphic-novel thing to which my first reaction was: Yay! Let us all wallow in guilt for not throwing ourselves to the ants and the tigers!
In the faltering conversation that followed, where I decided I was decreasingly likely to care what the person thought of me and my intolerant knuckle-dragging beliefs, I mentioned that I'd always thought that leaf-blowers would revolutionize the Jainist economy—except that apparently not having an economy was the entire point of the exercise: Walk Lightly Upon the Earth, and Accomplish Nothing of Consequence—which I suppose would make a fine slogan for lots of people in today's world.
Nihilistic self-loathing isn't just a modern conceit. Every now and then we get these early-Rousseau-esque back-to-the-land fantasies, clothing themselves in moralism and guilt-trips and admonishments to feel bad about even the millions of bacteria you kill with every breath taken in your wretched evil life; and it all sounds just so wonderful, except for that whole "four billion humans need to die to bring about our death-free agrarian ends" thing.
On top of which, exactly how in the hell are you supposed to farm without killing worms under your hoes or exploiting animal labor or anything? It's a beautiful thing to sit by the side of the road and eat oranges and speak blessings over the seeds so that they might nourish life blah blah blah, but unless you grew those oranges yourself through some amazing non-exploitative method, you found them, or you stole them, or you bought them from someone who didn't have such compunctions, like Safeway. Farming, by its nature, instills a sense of the pragmatic. People didn't start whipping oxen because they were sadistic, they did it because it was the only way to plow the fields. You get inured to sentimentality over the Pure Tenderness of Gentle Nature after a while. That sort of thing happens when you have to make your own food. If you don't—if you're sustained by the evil infrastructure of the supermarket, or if your room and board is paid for along with your tuition, or if you're lucky enough to be born among the idle rich—that sentimentality returns and you feel like you can change the world if only you could slaughter all those stupid troglodyte bastards who don't see things your way. As North Korea illustrates so well, it's easy to have a national policy of Self-Reliance™ when someone else is paying your bills.
"Mouthwash would be right out," the guy said, going along with my train of thought. "No killing bacteria allowed. It's like Super Christian Science."
"It's like Super Pol Pot," I said.
...Anyway. It's been a long morning. Sorry to start it off so grimly.
Last night, through some kind of string-pulling on the part of a friend of mine, a group of us went up to Lick Observatory on Mt. Hamilton for a seven-hour tour of the facility, including two of the ten or so observatory domes scattered across the ridge at the top of the mountain.
Here's the observatory, the face that looks out over the bay and can be seen from anywhere in Silicon Valley:
And here's the view from there after the sun has gone down:
First we toured the 120-inch reflector, the big dome on the second peak with the late-50s architectural elements like flat metal banisters on cherrywood-paneled staircases in the foyer. Inside is this monster:
Then, once the sun had gone down, we went to the large dome in the main observatory building, the 60-foot-long 36-inch refractor that had been completed in 1887.
Almost 120 years old and still in nightly use. Most of the equipment and furnishings, including the guard rails on the catwalk around the dome and the spiral staircase up to it, are original. So is that gorgeous hardwood floor down there, which is on a hydraulic lift so it rises and descends to give the astronomer access at any height throughout the dome to the end of the telescope. All the hardwood planks are bent into that circular design and lacquered over; when the floor moves up or down, it's with eerie smoothness and quiet.
This is pure Vernian steam-punk chic right here: look at the huge dials on the axial mounts there. The astronomer would have had to call out coordinates to his assistant perched up on the central pier, and he'd turn those big ship's wheels to aim the telescope. "Bring it about to seventeen hours right ascension, Mr. Hawkins!"
Nowadays, the astronomer moves the telescope by hand, using the leverage available at the end and the counterweights at the middle; if you get it going up and away, an astronomer without a lot of body weight gets taken for a ride.
And under the hydraulics in the central pier is where the crazy philanthropist who endowed the place is buried:
We spent until midnight aiming the scope at cool stuff in the sky, ending with a view of the rising Mars.
There aren't many cooler ways for a geek to spend a Saturday night.
It's way too easy to make fun of NASA's latest Grand Aspiration: to return to the moon for only half the inflation-adjusted cost as last time, by 2018. But Mike at Cold Fury does it anyway, since just because it's easy to mock doesn't mean it doesn't deserve it.
This is what it's come to, then? Issuing reassurances to the public that it won't cost us anything in blood or treasure to make sure that the long-ago-hard-won Moon won't become Chinese by default, out of our lack of interest?
On the question of cost, Mr. Griffin said space represented a long-term investment that should not be sidetracked by immediate concerns of tight budgets and crises like Hurricane Katrina.
“We’re talking about returning to the moon in 2018. There will be a lot more hurricanes and a lot more other natural disasters to befall the United States and the world in that time, I hope none worse than Katrina,” Mr. Griffin said at a news conference.
This is the Moon, guys. Remember, the Moon? And you're talking about Katrina? In twenty years Katrina will be a blip, like any other local disaster with a media-friendly name, like Loma Prieta or the Good Friday earthquake/tsunami, and as easily recovered from. I know Mr. Griffin is having to answer questions from a press corps trying to win perspicacity points by raking together disparate nettling counterarguments from all across the news spectrum, as they seem to have discovered that a great way to get noticed is to stump a politician with a question like "Wouldn't you say that Social Security reform is an irresponsible path to follow considering that there have been unusually rainy Octobers in seven out of the last nineteen years that Republicans have been in office?" —and I know NASA may not have had to prepare any answers weighing its own future against Katrina relief, so this might have come as a surprise. I don't know if the guy would have said anything differently if General Honore had had his back. But regardless, this all tells me simply that NASA doesn't know what it's for anymore.
As Steven Den Beste once said, it's a fallacy for someone to say, "Hey, if we can put a man on the moon, then we can damn sure come up with an alternative to fossil fuels," or some such. They're totally different kinds of engineering problems. Putting a man on the moon is something we accomplished with the technology of the 1960s. In brutal honesty, there's not all that much high technology involved in putting people into space. Space didn't require the development of new kinds of physics or the discovery of amazing new sources of energy. There's nothing all that revolutionary about filling up a big tank with liquid oxygen and lighting it on fire. Space is all about math. Lots and lots of math. Whereas the Moon Shot was akin to the invention of the car in the annals of human accomplishment, the development of an alternative fuel source would be more like the invention of the Star Trek transporter.
Space wasn't about conquering Nature or ushering in a new technocratic Future, though those were side effects. It was about something else, something a lot more fundamental and parochial. It was a WPA project in all but name, a way for Americans to unite behind a common purpose that would pay off in scientific dividends secondarily, but grand theater above all. It's What We Can Do if We All Pull Together.
The Moon Shot, as I understand it from the perspective of someone born years after Man last set foot there, was never a practical matter when you came right down to it. It was purely a point of national pride: We gotta get there first. Never mind that there's nothing actually there. It's the principle of the thing. And that sounds terribly cynical, written in today's language... but at the time, it didn't have to be. People actually got behind it. A matter of pure vanity got hearts genuinely pumping, even on the evening news. And yet today, we're so steeped in self-effacing irony and the reflexive recoil from anything that looks like "propaganda" that just to even show reruns of "The Omega Glory" risks losing advertisers. We're too smart for such parlor tricks today. In this atmosphere, the entire point of going to the Moon is wasted.
Sure, I'd like to see it happen. I just don't think anyone—in NASA or in the general public—really knows the visceral, binding power of the concept of going to the Moon in the first place, and now they're just going through the motions as befits our faded interest in that whole anachronistic long-ago Future.
UPDATE: On the other hand, maybe things aren't so grim. Check out this reader e-mail to Dean Esmay, following many similar threads of thought, and Dean's quite compelling response.
I do think we've sacrificed a lot with our mad rush into sophistication and malaise and irony in latter decades; but I can't deny that I'd just as soon live today as back then.
If this sort of thing were on CNN, perhaps I might watch it more often:
With body recovery teams in New Orleans finding far fewer than the expected 10,000 to 25,000 dead, despite the flooding of 80 percent of the city, it is time to ask: What went right?
Largely invisible to the media's radar, a broad-based rescue effort by federal, state and local first responders pulled 25,000 to 50,000 people from harm's way in floodwaters in the city. Ironically, FEMA's role, for good or ill, was essentially non-existent, as was the Governor's and the Mayor's. An ad-hoc distributed network responded on its own. Big Government didn't work. Odds and ends of little government did.
. . .
Urban also notes one explanation why the rescue operation flew below the radar of the media: Individual federal and state units were not coordinating their efforts overall. There was no central clearing house for information on rescue efforts. What looked like a hurricane relief breakdown was in fact a press release breakdown.
Too many of the hysterical pronouncements of ill-informed officials were reported as gospel truth — and then forgotten — in 24-hour bursts. So "25,000 body bags!" and "10,000 dead" beneath the muck of a submerged city were quietly superseded by the matter-of-fact news reports that the airport would open shortly.
Now we are also told that Mardi Gras may be back on schedule. How could such radical improvement happen at ground zero in a city of corpses that supposedly would not recover for decades?
The MSM seems to have internalized some kind of admonishment, gnawing at them like a brain mite, that reporting good news is tantamount to propaganda—that if they were to focus on the positive aspects of a given news story and not the negative, even to just give the positive more prominence than the negative rather than to actually obscure or omit troubling details, means you're filling the shoes of Baghdad Bob. They feel that their role isn't to reassure people, but to remind them of the bleakness of reality. The idea presumably being that reassuring people means lulling them into a false sense of security, convincing themselves that things are going okay, and that change—that big shining concept in the sky, that cornerstone of platitudes from Sesame Street to Market Street—isn't necessary. And that wouldn't do. Change is good, we're taught to repeat until we're incapable of sympathizing with any status quo except the ones that say change is good.
In trying to keep myself focused on the apolitical parts of Katrina, I find myself wondering: would I be doing the same thing if I detested the people in charge? Wouldn't I be looking for an excuse to blame a President I disliked, even if the means by which to pin the aftermath of a horrific natural disaster upon him were ghostly at best? Would I be cheering the MSM's ghoulish coverage, CNN's claiming the right to film bloated bodies, Cindy Sheehan's indirect coining of the term "Occupied New Orleans"? I like to think I wouldn't, but I really can't know that. How can I be sure I would have the fortitude to resist the temptation to make such cheap feel-good allegations as so many are making against Bush and FEMA, if the shoe were on the other foot? I can't. We only get one shot at each such situation, and we never get to replay it or flip ahead in the Choose Your Own Adventure of reality to see which page has the big THE END at the bottom. We can't know how well we'd do in a simulated universe where we could flip certain variables and see what turns out different. Each of our actions and reactions is a once-in-a-lifetime thing; we get no do-overs.
So I suppose I can't criticize the blame-mongers too heavily, because I don't know that I'd be any better if I were in their mental shoes. Still, I know what I would probably see as the more principled position, even if I didn't adhere to it myself: the desire to see positive facts as well as negative ones, even to put the positive ones above the fold and to thrust discouraging details down into the noise. This is, after all, a disaster that the whole country feels, whether through $3.29/gallon gasoline or the knowledge that we'll have to wait just as long to hear the Simpsons sing the "New Orleans" song again as we did to see Homer order Khlau Kalash in the shadow of the World Trade Center (and wash it down with a cold refreshing can of crab juice). Thinking positively staves off despair. It averts recessions. It isn't just a swamp into which the weak-minded sink, leaving the corrupt holding the reins; it's also empowerment in the hands of the people, taking hold of their own destinies, the way we like to think we used to.
And I'm not going to root for an economic downturn or the destruction of a major American city just to spite leaders I don't like. Granted, I haven't had this tested yet, as I didn't give a fig for politics prior to 9/11 (and just sort of generically liked Clinton anyway). But after 2008, all bets are off, and we'll see who gets to keep hold of the moral high ground, and who gets shoved off into stagnant floodwater.
UPDATE: This from MoveOn.org:
Hurricane Katrina has presented a defining moment for President Bush. So far, it's defined him as indecisive, uninterested in poverty and critically unprepared. Last night's nationally televised address was an attempt by the White House to mark a turning point.
But President Bush failed to deeply address either of the core vulnerabilities Katrina exposed—the federal government's inability to respond to disaster, and the poverty and racism that still remains in America. With the media jury out on the speech, we can help draw focus to Bush's failure to deliver on his core promise—to protect America from disaster.
Our ad team worked overnight, preparing a rapid-response TV ad we want to get on the air as soon as possible, to help shape this historic moment. If we can raise $250,000 today, we can do it. Can you contribute?
Even a small contribution will get the ad running if we all chip in. While the money we've all contributed for relief and recovery is critically important, we also need to fight to make sure our government does its job because government efforts will outstrip private efforts by a magnitude of hundreds. Advocacy is as important as charity at this time in our nation's history.
As Republican 9/11 Commission chair Thomas Kean said Thursday, "What makes you mad is that it's the same things we saw on 9/11. Whoever is responsible for acting in these places hasn't acted. Are they going to do it now? What else has to happen for people to act?"1
The ad, titled "No Safer," draws a contrast between the promises made and the reality today—explaining that despite all the money, reports and restructuring, America isn't any more prepared for a disaster now than it was four years ago, and President Bush doesn't have a plan to make us safe.
Since September 11th, we have been told repeatedly by the president that America is safer. That message—that he would protect America—is the central reason why he won re-election. Those claims turned out to be false.
What are these people, Howard Hughes' mother? You are not safe! For God's sake, people, grow a frickin' spine!
I am not interested in being "safe". Life isn't "safe". This is a world of bags of sentient meat fending off hostile physics and biology. We pilot multi-ton steel tanks down asphalt runways at 80 miles an hour. We eat food we didn't cook and sterilize ourselves. We get cancer and die from taking too many breaths or from swallowing tiny bits of saliva continuously over sixty years. "Safe"? Whatever happened to rugged individualism? Whence the frontier spirit? I just got back from three weeks in Alaska among people who have to carry shotguns and axes on a daily basis to fend off bears on the way back to their cabins, even if they've got Lexuses parked in the garages. How would they react to you telling them they're not "safe" from a hurricane or a terrorist attack? They'd laugh you out of town if you're lucky.
Look: if you want to be safe, you avoid high-risk areas and high-risk activities. Don't jump out of planes. Don't climb El Capitan. Don't ride your bike home from work once it starts getting dark in the evenings. Don't build a house below sea level or on the San Andreas Fault or in grizzly country. Don't go to the Super Bowl or the Times Square New Years Eve party when terrorists brag about having anthrax bombs. But doesn't it shame you a little bit, to see all the millions of people out there brave enough to do all those things and put on a happy face while doing it?
Yeesh. MoveOn.org is going to end up insulting even its fans at this rate.
For those who don't know, or those who knew but didn't care, the articles at Something Awful by Zack Parsons titled with variations upon "My Tank is Fight"—exposés of some of the most insane and awesome inventions of World War II—is soon to become a book.
Go check out the site and get on the mailing list. Also be sure to look at the list archives, where excerpts from the illustrations are shown; Parsons has enlisted the help of some really high-powered professional illustrators to bring to life monsters like the HMS Habbakuk and the Nazi Space Station. It's really something to see, and I can't wait for the book to be ready.
"Such was his legacy, and perhaps it would not have displeased him..."
One of my favorite restaurants is Chipotle, the burrito place that moved into what was once a Boston Market a few blocks from work. I just love their food. The burritos are big and tasty, the salsa is fresh, the cheese—oh, the cheese—is just to die for, and when you're done eating a steak or barbacoa burrito you've got a serious burn of spice-related well-being going on. They use lime and cilantro in their rice. They make great chips with large-grain salt and a drizzle of lime juice. Their soft-drink cups are covered with soul-baring, self-effacing essays musing on the zen of Chipotle, on all the aspects of the dining experience from the role of cumin and cilantro to the eclectic music selection to the cruciality of having the kitchen open for all to see to even a pronunciation guide for the restaurant's name. Their menu is small—just a few major choices with a few posted variations—but there's a purity to it, like at In-N-Out, that makes you feel like you're part of some kind of cultural phenomenon: Children of the Chipotle. I swear, if I had to pick a single place to eat every day for the rest of my life, this would be it.
There's only one thing I don't understand about the place, though: the acoustics. It's a chain, so maybe it varies from location to location in this regard, but I don't think so: they chose to do the interior décor in some kind of strange Industrial Midwestern/Corrugated Metal and Exposed Bolts/Hardwood Chairs and Dangling Ductwork motif that has an effect on sound that can best be described as apocalyptic. The metal wall coverings and clanking chairs hammer on casual sound waves in such a way that Chipotle is where conversations go to die. You have to shout to be heard across your own table. Yet you can hear everybody else's conversation all the way down to the cash register. The whole room is a giant echo chamber, without any soft surfaces anywhere to be seen to deaden the reverberations. The restaurant makes a big deal of all the cool music they play over their speaker system, but I can never make any of it out—everything but the bass line is drowned out by the metallic cacophony. The food is great there, indeed yes, but... man oh man, the noise.
One of the cups, though, solicits customers to visit the restaurant's feedback page (click "Speak" on the site's Flash menu) and feel free to send comments to Joe Stupp, the guy in charge of making sure the Chipotle user experience is every bit as impeccable as that of taking an iPod out of its box. They seem to place a great deal of stock in this ideal, and it's always seemed incomprehensible to me that nobody's noticed this glaring problem yet in what is otherwise an outstanding lunch experience. I'd used the form once before to rave about the cheese, and Joe wrote back within 24 hours to thank me and talk about the fresh-grating process and so on. But this time I wanted to air an actual complaint.
Here's what I got back:
Thank you for writing us, and that does happen sometimes with the various locations we build that we can't seem to figure out the acoustics. We will look into this for sure at our Cupertino restaurant (are there other locations you visit?). In the meantime, if it is just too obnoxious for you to tolerate, then please just ask us to turn the tunes down for you, and we would be happy to do that.
Joe Stupp Manager, Duct Tape and Plungers Chipotle
So I guess I can expect to see a sound crew in the Cupertino Chipotle sometime in the near future, swinging boom mikes around and tapping on corrugated metal wall panels, fine-tuning the acoustics. I'm not sure what they can do to soak up the sound, frankly, without completely changing the look of the place; maybe they can stand some coat racks in strategic places in the room and drape carpets over them, or maybe put up some mannequins with frightwigs.
But whatever happens, I remain convinced that there are few chain restaurants like this, where they give you this much interactive customer communication right up to the level of people who can make things happen. Small wonder the food's so good, dood.
It's slow news days that you're not supposed to be able to come up with much to write about, isn't it?
Well, I guess the opposite has been true for me lately. Ever since getting back from the vacation, I've had a hell of a time getting back into the groove. I'm only just now picking up some of the projects that I was working on when I left. As regards writing, I just haven't felt like there's been much I could contribute to anything. I'm keeping abreast of developments as I usually do, but I feel like I arrived late to the Katrina party (even though I was there for the whole thing) and can't really find my footing. It's one of those things that, like 9/11 and the tsunami, just sort of came out of nowhere, and in an ideal world you'd think that they'd exist entirely apart from politics and blame. They're just things that happen, and all I'm interested in doing is hearing how recovery efforts are going. I'm not in New Orleans, just as I hadn't been to New York in years and hadn't ever been to Malaysia, and so I can't think of a single thing I could say that people much better equipped for it have already said, and far better.
And just as with those other events, the politics reared their stupid, ugly heads, and I just couldn't stomach it. Politics at leisure is one thing; debating clubs don't debate when the missiles are flying, after all. But politics in the heat of the moment, or in the subsequent days or weeks? I just can't fathom it.
So I apologize for the lack of pithy content here. I'm hoping people read the Alaska journal and find it chunky enough to tide them over for a while, because things just aren't picking up around here for me just yet. I'm sure they will. But in the meantime, I'm still recovering from the trip, and world events aren't helping much to return me to that low simmer state that I'm usually stuck in. Right now things I see across blogland are just too much of a roller coaster for me to be sure I'm not about to lose my lunch over the edge, and so I'm concentrating on these few hours we seem to have in these latitudes of early sunsets, where Belgian Tervurens demand nonstop high-energy playtime and lugubrious collies plead for hour-long sunrise walks.
Routine. I need an extra helping of it these days. Guess I'm getting old.
NEW ORLEANS — You know a city has legs when three or four dozen of them are parading down Bourbon Street — some clad in tutus and grass skirts — six days after the most damaging hurricane in American history.
But the annual Southern Decadence parade through the heart of the French Quarter stops for nothing — not even Katrina.
"Hey, we've got to keep our morale up, too," said Jill Sandars, aka "Jelly Sandwich," her "Quarter" name.
Resplendent in a fluffy red skirt, dark hat and small black umbrella, she strutted and sang with 15 to 20 other storm survivors who'd hunkered down in battered but not beaten streets normally associated with bead-throwing at Mardi Gras.'
I thought I'd seen some unbelievable pictures of New Orleans in the past week, but these—in a different way—are almost even more so.
I'm still doing my best to avoid reading any news sources that try to drag politics into the Katrina disaster; unfortunately, that sort of rules out just about everything. So, assuming we can't de-politicize the coverage here and now, we may as well just pass the time until politicization is deemed appropriate, by reading sites like this one: Rick Moran's Katrina Timeline. It's probably the best we'll do for a while yet.
Okay, look: I'm going to take these guys exactly as seriously as I take the people who say that Katrina could have been averted if only we'd signed Kyoto.
There will always be crazies, apparently, and there will always be people who like to stare at the crazies and shriek in terror so they can convince themselves that they're both morally superior and persecuted to within an inch of their lives. I don't mind saying that I find the very domain name of this "news" site every bit as offensive as the stuff they're gesticulating at. Elitism coupled with hysterical paranoia is a dangerous cocktail.
UPDATE: Don't even look at LGF's collection of posts from today and yesterday. I'm sorry I did.
I can't believe I share a planet with some people, let alone a country.
And I don't understand how Charles can keep from going mad from all this.
I know it's been quiet around here lately—but really, that's only how it looks. Believe me, I've been busily working on the pages for the trip journal and photos, and it's gonna be pretty cool when it's all done. I've got quite a bit left to do, though—I need to revise and flesh out the journal entries, sort out the photos and figure out a good mechanism for browsing them, and come up with a good design for the pages themselves. It's coming, but slowly.
One thing I have found, though, that makes things very much easier is this: the Google Maps GPX Viewer. It's exactly what I needed for converting my saved .gpx track logs for each day's driving into a plot on Google Maps, which you can then use to zoom and pan just as on the regular Google Maps site. If you have any .gpx files sitting around, you might find it fun to play with.
I was seized inexplicably with the need to know whether anyone had written down the lyrics for "The Ballad of The Sneak" by Da Vinci's Notebook. I thought, nah, pretty unlikely, right? Who could possibly have both the interest and the tenacity to ferret out all those lyrics, let alone post them online somewhere?
They're just light-years ahead of us regular humans. The resources they have at their disposal—just staggering.
Talking to all of you out there. If you are away from your television, you can still track Hurricane Katrina's path. Just go to your computer and log on to CNN.com/hurricane.
KAGAN: Well, it's Hurricane Katrina that's still very much making history all along the Gulf Coast. That includes New Orleans.
Now, the French Quarter of downtown New Orleans still too wet and too flooded to get our satellite trucks in there, but with the use of a new technology called FTP, our John Zarella able to go out into the streets of the French Quarter, shoot a standup, shoot his story, and send it back us to via computer. So here now, John Zarella from the French quarter in New Orleans.
JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We are on Common Street in the French Quarter. The height of the storm still not here on top of us yet. But already, you can see blown out windows in the building across the street from us.
. . .
KAGAN: And once again, John Zarrella filing that report just a little while ago, using our FTP technology, filing it simply through computer.
So I paid for my burrito today with a $20, and got back a $10 and some ones. I tossed what I thought was a $1 into the tip jar, but then the cashier sort of grinned sheepishly and asked me whether the $10 bill I'd actually thrown in there was a mistake or what. With much apology, I fished it out and replaced it with the $1 I'd meant to put in. "It's okay," he said, trying to ease my flusterment. "I know what you meant to do."
And that should be the end of it, right? You'd think so. All is well. Except for one thing: I know that this is going to show up in my dreams sooner or later. I'm going to be haunted by visions of me going to the ATM and finding huge holes in my bank account, and then turning around and having waiters and cashiers wearing top hats and monocles drive by me in Ferraris, waving happily. This is going to screw me up for weeks.
Geez, it's hard getting back into the groove of this blogging thing... especially when I'm still so burdened with the digital bauble-hoard from the trip that I haven't even unpacked yet.
But I was just wondering something, and yes I know it's petty and peevish, but hey, that's what this place is nominally for, so here goes: Why is it that almost without exception, people pronounce the first syllable of asphalt as ash?
Not a single dictionary definition I've found lists that as a valid pronunciation, but almost everybody I've heard say the word says it ashphalt. Even comedians from the 30s.
C'mon, people. English is having a hard enough time getting along with its words that are legitimately not pronounced as spelled. Or are we all just gluttons for punishment, craving irregularity and counterintuitiveness?
All the photos are recovered from the laptop now... yes, it took a long time, mostly because of other geekish emergencies I've been wrestling with ever since getting back, and also that whole "work" thing.
I've got 6,897 pictures in iPhoto now; 3,485 of them are from the Alaska trip.