Saturday, May 30, 2009

Sarah Palin's Outrageous Hypocrisy on Teen Sex

From AlterNet, Matt Taibbi opines on Sarah Palin's Jerry Springer family and its political ramifications:

What does it take to get discredited as a moralizing right-wing ”family values” merchant these days?

It was one thing when we found out that super-religious governor Palin was letting Bristol’s hunkface beef accessory Levi nail her daughter more or less regularly under the family roof. It was another when we found out that the governor’s sister-in-law got popped for a B&E while her little daughter was waiting outside in the car. And it was still another thing when we found out that Levi’s Mom was going to eat a bust for dealing Oxycontin


But beyond that, Bristol’s casual statement about deciding not to get married after all, about how it would have been a disaster, I just don’t get how this works, politically. How can a Republican presidential candidate (and let’s not fool ourselves, Sarah Palin is already that) publicly endorse unwed teen mothering? Am I missing something?

More here.

Of course, that last question, "Am I missing something?", is simply rhetorical. Taibbi knows that the whole right-wing "family values" thing has always been an extraordinarily problematic position to take for its champions. I mean, you know, even though I have no doubt that most of the people who push fundamentalist Christian "family values" try as hard as they can to actually believe what they're saying, we all live in the real world, liberal and conservative alike, and we all have to live with real world issues whether we want to or not.

The pastor who baptized me when I was twelve would preach, from time to time, about how sinful divorce is. Or rather, how sinful remarriage is--divorce is permissible, if absolutely necessary, but marrying again is tantamount to adultery. When I was in my early twenties, his son, who is about a year younger than me, got married; my old preacher performed the ceremony. A few years after that, for whatever reasons, his son's marriage failed, and, like most married Americans at some point in their lives, he got a divorce. I knew this guy well. He was, and I'm sure continues to be, a devout Southern Baptist, and more importantly, he was one of the good ones, who honestly tried to treat people in a loving Christlike way. I'm sure he did everything he could to persevere in his troubled union. But this is the real world, and it didn't work out. But no big deal. Happens all the time. A few years later, he fell in love again, and got married again. Now this is gossip I heard through some of my old church connections, so take it with a grain of salt, but my understanding is that his father presided over the second ceremony, essentially blessing what he had preached was adultery.

I do not condemn this as hypocrisy. Indeed, I laud the turnaround. I have no idea what kind of philosophical shift was needed in order to turn "adultery" into blessed union, but I wholeheartedly approve of this shift. And, knowing this pastor as I once did, I'm certain that there actually was a philosophical transformation: the father, like the son, is one of those good Southern Baptists, earnest and honest, loving and kind. He would never act in a way that is inconsistent with his beliefs. Rather, he was hit in the face by a strong dose of reality, and wisely adjusted his thinking.

But his example is the exception that proves the rule. Most "family values" folk are seemingly incapable of adjusting their attitudes in the face of reality. And when the real world proves them wrong, they wallow in absurdity trying to rationalize away the contradictions. Fallen televangelists like Jimmy Swaggart or Ted Haggard, right-wing bloviators like drug addict Rush Limbaugh or gambling addict William Bennett, closeted gay Republican politicians like US Representative Mark Foley or Senator Larry Craig, all these people have made utter fools of themselves attempting to adhere to their "family values" positions in the face of their utterly contradictory actions.

The same thing happens every day to ordinary rank-and-file socially conservative Americans.

You know, I spend a lot of time excoriating these "family values" types, for the damage they do to America with their foolish rhetoric, for their hypocrisy, for their self-righteousness. I spend far too little time feeling sorry for them. Because a lot of them are totally miserable.


Friday, May 29, 2009


Sammy and Frankie

Be sure to check out Modulator's Friday Ark for more cat blogging pics!


Thursday, May 28, 2009


From the International Association of Lighting Designers:


The Texas State Legislature passed legislation this morning, 27 May 2009, which will have the unintended consequence of outlawing the practice of lighting design within its borders.

As it is currently written, Texas House Bill 2649 (THB2649) prohibits lighting designers who work in Texas to work on projects without being licensed as either an electrician, architect, engineer, landscape architect or interior designer.

The IALD strongly urges the Texas Senate Business & Commerce Committee remove language restrictive to the profession in THB2649 as a "technical adjustment" when the bill is prepared for Gov. Rick Perry's signature, or the eventual veto of the bill by the Governor should no changes in language be made.

More here.

So I've often railed against the deregulation regime the US has been dealing with since the Reagan era. You know the usual argument, that deregulation tends to help business at the expense of consumers and workers, and this is often true. But I always try to make the point that sometimes regulation is just plain stupid, bad for everybody. This bill in the Texas Ledge is a case in point.

I received this email a little while ago from my old pal Jim, with whom I attended the University of Texas, and with whom I stayed in Atlanta when I evacuated New Orleans for Hurricane Gustav:

Dear all,

Sorry to spam you, but I need a favor. As most of you know, I am an architectural lighting designer by profession. In Texas, the legislature passed a bill yesterday that outlaws my profession in that state as such, requiring all lighting design to be performed by engineers, architects, or interior designers (my background is in theatrical lighting, as is the case with about 70% of architectural lighting designers). These are different trades than lighting design and all of those trades rely on lighting designers for advice on how to best illuminate their projects in an aesthetically pleasing, energy efficient manner. If professional lighting designers are not allowed to practice in Texas, you can be quite sure that Texans will end up with a less attractive world in which to wander around. We are also concerned as Texas is a state which other states watch for legislative initiatives, so has the potential for more far-reaching effects.

Here are but a few of the projects that I'm aware of in Texas that were designed by professional lighting designers without architectural, engineering, or interior design credentials:

The State Capitol
The Alamo
Frost Bank, Austin
Reliant Stadium
San Antonio River Link
Carver Center for the Arts, San Antonio
Austin and Houston airports
Texas Children's Hospital (we are working on that one right now)
Texas Heart Institute
MD Anderson
Baylor College of Medicine
University of Texas Austin and San Antonio, various projects
Rothko Chapel
Fresco Chapel
Cy Twombly
San Jacinto Monument
etc, etc, etc

Basically put, every major project in Texas and in most parts of the rest of the developed world uses our services or those of our peers in the industry. Remember those groovy lights on the outside of the Beijing Olympics natatorium or on the Bird's Nest? NOT designed by an engineer.

So... I'm writing to ask a favor, in particular from those of you who reside in Texas, but also from the rest of you:

Can you please send an email or make a call or send a fax or scream from the rooftops to express your displeasure with the lighting design amendment tacked on to House Bill 2649? The information for contacts is at the bottom of the forwarded email below (See link above for this--Ron). The bill goes into conference committee tomorrow, and if the lighting design amendment is allowed to stay in the bill, only a veto can stop the state from outlawing the profession, so please at least harass Representative Smith and Governor Perry. Please also forward this to others you know who might help. I'd really like this issue to go viral very quickly.

Thank you very much in advance for your help on this issue.


For more information on architectural lighting design, see or
Any Texas voters out there, go do your thing if you are inclined. Lighting design is an extraordinarily cool field, and it would be insane to simply regulate it into the ether.


Thank you very much to those who took action on this issue. Your efforts helped to convince the Texas Legislature to remove the offending amendment from the bill.



Wednesday, May 27, 2009


From Wikipedia:

"What Are Little Girls Made Of?" is a first season episode of Star Trek: The Original Series. It is episode #7, production #10, and was first broadcast October 20, 1966. It was repeated two months later, on December 22, 1966, and was the first episode of the series to be repeated on NBC. It was written by Robert Bloch and directed by James Goldstone. The title of the episode is taken from the fourth line of the 19th century nursery rhyme "What Are Little Boys Made Of?".

Overview: Nurse Chapel searches for her long lost fiancé, and uncovers his secret plan for galactic conquest.

More here.

Not one of my favorites, but that doesn't mean it's not worth watching. Indeed, I don't return to this one again and again the way I do with episodes like "The Naked Time" or "Where No Man Has Gone Before," but when I do watch it, I have fun. I probably stay away from "What Are Little Girls Made Of?" because, like a number of other first season episodes, it feels less like Trek and more like 50s and 60s science fiction in general. On the other hand, sci-fi film and television from that era is pretty damned good stuff--Twilight Zone was great, as was Invasion of the Body Snatchers, as was Forbidden Planet. This episode's got some really cool themes placing it right smack dab in the middle of the genre at the time, evil robots, friends and lovers as secret enemies, subversive galactic conquest, and on and on.

And, in spite of its non-Trek feel, it's got some good Star Trek motifs. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time we see the classic "death of red shirts" scene, that is, Enterprise security guards who show up only to die quickly and violently. It features Nurse Chapel prominently, and fleshes out her character a bit. Dr. Korby is a classic and well played mad scientist. Ruk, the alien android played by the same actor who played Lurch on the old Addams Family TV show, Ted Cassidy, is a well executed evil robot.

Okay, now that I've gone through all this I'm thinking I ought to go ahead and watch it again. You should too.


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Obama Hails Sotomayor as ‘Inspiring’

From the New York Times:

President Obama announced on Tuesday that he will nominate the federal appeals judge Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court, choosing a daughter of Puerto Rican parents raised in a Bronx public housing project to become the nation’s first Hispanic justice.


Judge Sotomayor has said her ethnicity and gender are important factors in serving on the bench, a point that could generate debate. “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life,” she said in a 2002 lecture.

She also once said at a conference that a “court of appeals is where policy is made,” a statement that has drawn criticism from conservatives who saw it as a sign of judicial activism. Judge Sotomayor seemed to understand at the time that she was making a controversial statement, adding that, “I know this is on tape, and I should never say that, because we don’t make law.”

Conservatives quickly pointed to such statements after word of her selection on Tuesday.

“Judge Sotomayor is a liberal activist of the first order who thinks her own personal political agenda is more important than the law as written,” said Wendy E. Long, counsel to the Judicial Confirmation Network, an activist group. “She thinks that judges should dictate policy, and that one’s sex, race and ethnicity ought to affect the decisions one renders from the bench.”

More here.

Well, of course, I'm disappointed. I mean, Obama could have done a whole lot worse, I suppose, but Sotomayor is clearly no "liberal activist." Looking over some of her major past decisions on her Wikipedia page, she does indeed appear to be something of a "centrist" whatever that means these days. That is, she's not always in lockstep with judges who always rule in favor of big business, but she appears to side with the corporations a bit more often than not. She upheld the conservative "gag rule" on abortion aid abroad. She appears to be good on civil rights and gun control. A mixed bag, really, which is why I'm okay with calling her a centrist. Indeed, the same Wikipedia article cites ten sources describing her as a centrist.

Like I said, we could do a whole lot worse.

On the other hand, the right wing is trying to whip itself into a frenzy--just check out some of these posts over at Media Matters. Limbaugh calls her a "reverse racist." Televangelist Pat Robertson calls her the "worst" choice possible. Then there's the question about her remarks on gender and ethnicity informing decisions from the bench. That's got the conservatives squealing like pigs.

But really. Gender and ethnicity inform everybody's opinions on everything. People are simply fooling themselves when they call only for judges who do nothing but "interpret the law." It is impossible to do nothing but "interpret the law." I mean, okay, if you're worried about some weirdo coming along and deciding cases based solely on such issues, or even using them as major standards for decision making, I'm with you. Judges need to interpret the law. The point is that the law, and the courts, do not exist in some sort of social or historical vacuum: pretending to ignore how legal decisions function in the real world, pretending that justices do not carry bias with them onto the bench, is not only intellectually arrogant, but often downright dangerous.

When Sotomayor says that legal decisions are affected by the personal background of the judges making them, she's not asserting a radical judicial philosophy; rather, she's simply describing the way things are, and is most likely a better judge for her awareness of that reality.

On the whole, I'd personally prefer a real liberal judicial activist, keeping in mind that, as far as I can tell, all Supreme Court Justices practice "judicial activism" whether they're conservative or not. But given today's mainstream political climate, center right, my kind of nominee is simply impossible, even if the President were inclined to lean in that direction, which I don't believe. I guess I'll have to settle for someone who's simply not a far-right reactionary freakazoid.



From Balloon Juice courtesy of Eschaton:

Your Sunday Morning Sermon

Courtesy of a Red State diary:

It’s likely even Jesus would have OK’d water boarding if it would have saved his Mom. He would’ve done the same to save his Dad, or any one of His disciples. For that matter, He even died to save all humans.
More here, including a link to the original post at the super right-wing RedState site.

So, of course, the point that liberal Balloon Juice is making by excerpting this passage is something along the lines of "those far right torture supporters are so depraved that they're willing to twist the ostensibly pacifist views of 'the prince of peace' to mean their exact opposite."

Well, okay.

I agree that torture supporters are depraved. I also agree that many, many Christians oppose torture because of their religious convictions, and that one can argue convincingly that Jesus might have opposed torture himself. But I can't say that most Christians oppose torture because a recent study found that a majority of church goers do not oppose torture. And, as I observed a few weeks back in my post about this study, the existence of pro-torture Christians is not really such a strange phenomenon: Christians believe that Hell, the ultimate and most horrific torture chamber in all the universe, is a good thing, extremely important in the cosmic moral order.

We must never forget that "love your neighbor" Jesus spoke fondly, on numerous occasions, about Hell, and the crucial role it plays in his Father's plans and schemes. That is, Jesus supported torture.

You can take that as allegory if you want, and like I said, many Christians do, but it's all right there in the Bible. Don't take my word for it; look it up yourself if you don't believe me: torture is literally embedded in Christian belief.

So, what the fuck would Jesus do? Well, he'd probably be very happy about your eternal torment if you haven't accepted him into your heart. Or very sad that you have to face his father's wrath, and are too proud to use his get-out-of-jail-free-card otherwise known as "salvation." Whatever. Same difference.


Sunday, May 24, 2009


From the New York Times, columnist Frank Rich on gay rights and the majority party:

La Cage aux Democrats

But when Congressional Republicans try to block gay civil rights — last week one cadre introduced a bill to void the recognition of same-sex marriage in the District of Columbia — they just don’t have the votes to get their way. The Democrats do have the votes to advance the gay civil rights legislation Obama has promised to sign. And they have a serious responsibility to do so. Let’s not forget that “don’t ask” and DOMA both happened on Bill Clinton’s watch and with his approval. Indeed, in the 2008 campaign, Obama’s promise to repeal DOMA outright was a position meant to outflank Hillary Clinton, who favored only a partial revision.

So what’s stopping the Democrats from rectifying that legacy now? As Wolfson said to me last week, they lack “a towering national figure to make the moral case” for full gay civil rights. There’s no one of that stature in Congress now that Ted Kennedy has been sidelined by illness, and the president shows no signs so far of following the example of L.B.J., who championed black civil rights even though he knew it would cost his own party the South. When Obama invoked same-sex marriage in an innocuous joke at the White House correspondents’ dinner two weeks ago — he and his political partner, David Axelrod, went to Iowa to “make it official” — it seemed all the odder that he hasn’t engaged the issue substantively.

“This is a civil rights moment,” Wolfson said, “and Obama has not yet risen to it.” Worse, Obama’s opposition to same-sex marriage is now giving cover to every hard-core opponent of gay rights, from the Miss USA contestant Carrie Prejean to the former Washington mayor Marion Barry, each of whom can claim with nominal justification to share the president’s views.

Click here for the rest.

Right. Rich's theory is that the Democrats simply need to be prodded by a persuasive and well regarded individual in order to do the right thing, and he may very well be right about that, but this point of view begs the question: why the hell does the "liberal" party need to be pushed toward taking a liberal policy position?

If you've read Real Art for any time at all, you can probably guess my answer. Yeah, that's right. The Democrats aren't the liberal party. I mean, there are certainly liberals in the Democratic Party, but in no way do the progressive coalitions in the House and Senate wield the same kind of influence that their counterparts in the Republican Party have over their comrades. That is, the Republicans are definitely a conservative party; the Democrats, however, are not the Republicans' opposite: the Democrats are the party of non-Republican conservatives and everybody else along the political spectrum who don't self-identify as conservative. For that matter, a lot of Democrats who wouldn't ever call themselves "conservative" consistently take conservative positions on multiple issues.

There isn't any one reason that the so-called "liberal" party chronically defies its ideological reputation in deed, but retains it in mythology--much of it has to do with the successful right-wing pulling of the political center ever towards itself over the last thirty years or so, making today's "liberal" equal yesterday's "conservative" in national discourse. But whatever the reasons, the Democrats' "liberal" fiction continues as a reality today in spite of the Republican implosion.

How long will it take for the donkey butts to realize that their enemies have destroyed themselves, that it is now safe to begin considering ideas that would have gotten them tarred and feathered a decade ago? Have the Democrats crossed a threshold of no return? Do we have to wait a generation until the wild right-wing politics of the Reagan revolution are forgotten?

I hope I live long enough to see.


Saturday, May 23, 2009


From C-SPAN2:

From Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington D.C., Matt Taibbi, contributing editor to Rolling Stone magazine, explores the political landscape of post-9/11 America in "The Great Derangement: A Terrifying True Story of War, Politics, and Religion at the Twilight of the American Empire." Mr. Taibbi presents his thoughts on the war in Iraq, the machinations of Congress, the 9/11 truth movement and his time as a churchgoer. Matt Taibbi discusses his book with David Corn, Washington bureau chief for Mother Jones magazine. Following the taping of After Words, Matt Taibbi and David Corn took questions from the audience at Politics and Prose bookstore.

Click here to watch the interview.

So I've been grooving a lot on Taibbi lately. He's something of a Frank Rich for people born after the baby boom. That is, Taibbi's political analysis is solid, but it's peppered liberally with the kind of stuff that I like to write about here, cultural contextualization, what it all means for ordinary people, and in terms of movies and music. It only makes sense that he writes for Rolling Stone, but really he transcends the venerable baby boomer magazine, or at least what the magazine has become. He's the true heir to Hunter S. Thompson, only without the guns and peyote.

Anyway, this is a fun interview, particularly the stuff about his time infiltrating Cornerstone Baptist Church in San Antonio, headed by Pastor John Hagee, one of the looniest fundamentalists in the country. And David Corn, formerly of the Nation magazine, now with Mother Jones, conducts the interview--Corn is the guy who first figured out that federal laws may have been broken when Robert Novak blabbed in a column that Valerie Plame was an undercover CIA agent. So you've got a pretty brilliant guy on the other side of the table.

It's about an hour long. Go check it out.


Friday, May 22, 2009


Dash and Reine...

...and Becky's leg!

Be sure to check out Modulator's Friday Ark for more cat blogging pics!


Thursday, May 21, 2009

Rules for Time Travelers

From Discover Magazine courtesy of the Daily Kos:

Not that we expect these rules to be obeyed; the dramatic demands of a work of fiction will always trump the desire to get things scientifically accurate, and Star Trek all by itself has foisted half a dozen mutually-inconsistent theories of time travel on us. But time travel isn’t magic; it may or may not be allowed by the laws of physics — we don’t know them well enough to be sure — but we do know enough to say that if time travel were possible, certain rules would have to be obeyed. And sometimes it’s more interesting to play by the rules. So if you wanted to create a fictional world involving travel through time, here are 10+1 rules by which you should try to play.

More here.

No real commentary on this. I mean, you know, I'm not a physicist. But this shit is damned fascinating. Even though Star Trek's soft sci-fi approach to time travel is rightfully dismissed by actual scientists as silly poppycock, one has to admit that the show has made millions, myself included, want to know more about the concept in the real world. And knowing more about real prospects for time travel makes hard science fiction, that is, sci-fi strongly grounded in contemporary science, all the more enjoyable. Like with David Gerrold's landmark time travel tale from the early 70s, The Man Who Folded Himself. Damned fine book.

Anyway, go read the rules. Wild stuff.



From Wikipedia:

"Balance of Terror", written by Paul Schneider and directed by Vincent McEveety, is a first-season episode of the original Star Trek series that first aired on December 15, 1966. The episode is a science-fiction version of a submarine film; writer Paul Schneider drew on the films Run Silent, Run Deep and The Enemy Below, casting the Enterprise as a surface vessel and the Romulan vessel as a submarine.

This episode introduces the Romulans. Additionally, Mark Lenard, playing the Romulan commander, makes his first Star Trek appearance. Lenard later played Spock's Vulcan father, Sarek, in several episodes and movies, and appears as the Klingon commander in
Star Trek: The Motion Picture. These roles made Lenard the first actor to play characters of three prominent Star Trek races.

More here.

This one is great. It's probably not in my top five, if only because of a few weird inconsistencies, like Lt. Stiles' xenophobia toward Spock, or the Vulcan science officer's dunderheaded accidental breaking of radio silence. But it's definitely in my top ten.

"Balance of Terror" is a straight up Federation war story, something we see far too little of in the original series. Like the Wikipedia article says, it's a submarine tale, and quite well done, at that. There's also some great Trek mythology established. We get to see a Star Fleet wedding. We get some Vulcan history; we get some Earth history. The cloaking device is introduced. We get to meet the Romulans, who are almost as compelling of an alien foe as the Klingons.

Quick digression. Of all the different varieties of Star Trek out there, I feel like the only time they ever got the Romulans right was the first series. Part of that is the above mentioned portrayal of the Romulan Commander by Mark Lenard, which is fantastic--no actor of his caliber ever played a Romulan again, excepting maybe the guy who played that defecting admiral in a mid-series episode of Next Generation, but the only other original series Romulan episode, "The Enterprise Incident," took Lenard's lead in how the actors approached the race. But the biggest reason for the later failure of Romulans in Star Trek is that writers just didn't seem to understand them: Kirk's Romulans are clearly modeled after the Romans--they're bloodthirsty warriors, yes, but they also have culture and sophistication; they enjoy battle, but they also appreciate art and beauty. Later versions make them out to be not much more than Machiavellian assholes. And who the fuck can dig a Machiavellian asshole?

Anyway, check it out. It's great.


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

GQ report blames Rumsfeld for military delay after Katrina

From the New Orleans Times-Picayune:

The Washington Monthly highlights more of Robert Draper's article in GQ:

"[T]hree years later, when I asked a top White House official how he would characterize Rumsfeld's assistance in the response to Hurricane Katrina, I found out why. "It was commonly known in the West Wing that there was a battle with Rumsfeld regarding this," said the official. "I can't imagine another defense secretary throwing up the kinds of obstacles he did."

Though various military bases had been mobilized into a state of alert well before the advance team's tour, Rumsfeld's aversion to using active-duty troops was evident: "There's no doubt in my mind," says one of Bush's close advisers today, "that Rumsfeld didn't like the concept."

The next day, three days after landfall, word of disorder in New Orleans had reached a fever pitch. According to sources familiar with the conversation, DHS secretary Michael Chertoff called Rumsfeld that morning and said, "You're going to need several thousand troops."

"Well, I disagree," said the SecDef. "And I'm going to tell the president we don't need any more than the National Guard."
More here, including links to both the GQ article, and the Washington Post article about it.

At the time, everybody on the left was strongly asserting that the federal response would have been much better if resources hadn't already been tied up in Iraq and Afghanistan. And that continues to be a reasonable point of view. I may have mentioned that argument during my furious daily Katrina blogging back in September of '05, but I think lack of evidence kept me from really jumping on the bandwagon with it. That is, we didn't really know that the Bush administration's mythic impotence in New Orleans was because he'd already shot his wad in the Middle East--my understanding then was, and continues to be, that because Republicans believe government can do nothing but make things worse, they are supremely unqualified to actually run government; indeed, what Republicans want to do is run government into the ground.

But this news about Rumsfeld gives some credence to that initial left-wing take on Bush's Katrina failure. I mean, the GQ article doesn't assert that the tardiness of federal troops' arrival in NOLA was literally because they were all overseas when the storm hit, but it does show that war policy played a significant role in delaying the military's arrival. Sometimes when something seems to be true, even though you can't possibly be certain, there's a good chance it's the truth.

We already knew that Rumsfeld's a scumbag. Now we know that he needlessly and singlehandedly perpetuated the suffering of thousands for what apparently amount to vainglorious reasons. If that's not a crime, it ought to be.


Monday, May 18, 2009


From the Houston Chronicle:

Ross, Kessy upset top seeds to claim Open

April Ross and Jennifer Kessy sprayed champagne on a crowd of well-wishers after their finals match at Westside Tennis and Fitness. Then Ross savored what was left in her bottle.

It tasted too good too waste.

“It’s really, really sweet,” she said, smiling.

Almost as sweet as her team’s first AVP Tour win in 10 finals trips. Ross and Kessy upended top seeds Nicole Branagh and Elaine Youngs 21-17, 18-21, 15-12 on Sunday for the Houston Open title

More here.

Well, first off, congratulations to Ross and Kessy for their stunning win at the Houston Open. They worked long and hard to finally top their rivals, and I'm sure they will continue to bask in the glory of their triumph.

On the other hand, I continue to have great difficulty taking beach volleyball seriously. Sure, it's definitely a sport. I mean, they keep score and hand out trophies and all. And it's definitely volleyball, which has a century-long history as a legitimate sport. But I just can't get past the bathing suits and sand. What's it all about? Okay okay, it is "beach" volleyball, after all. I get that.

But I feel like we're all supposed to pretend that the exposed skin and party atmosphere don't have anything to do with why beach volleyball appears to be, like, a billion times more popular than regular old volleyball played in a gym. I mean, c'mon. The whole thing, culturally speaking, is about bringing MTV style spring break coverage to people who wouldn't be caught dead watching the real thing.

"No no, It's not sleazy at all! It's a sporting event."

Well okay, I wouldn't particularly call it "sleazy" myself, but it's definitely about T&A and beer. I imagine that women and gay men get something out of the half naked male players, too, but I suspect the whole XY side of the game only exists as cover for the XX matches--you know, it's not about sex; they show both men and women.


Anyway, don't get me wrong on this. I'm not saying beach volleyball shouldn't exist, or that people who enjoy it are stupid. I'm just saying there seems to be a sort of "Emperor's New Clothes" aspect to it that bothers me. Frankly, I prefer watching spring break idiots dancing around in next to nothing on MTV every March through May. It's more honest.

For similar reasons, I prefer trashy topless bars over Hooter's.

Elaine Youngs is blocked at the net by April Ross.
Photo by Bob Levey courtesy of the Houston Chronicle

MTV Spring Break Panama City Beach, 2009
Photo by Steven Brahms courtesy of MTV



From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:

Principal asked to apologize for comments on kilt

The principal of a Utah middle school has been asked to apologize for forcing a kilt-wearing Scottish-American student to change his clothes.


Jessop told the boy that the outfit could be misconstrued as cross-dressing.

Taggart says the district recognizes the kilt as an expression of the boy's Scottish heritage and that the kilt was not inappropriate.

A wee bit more here.

So this is in Mormon-intense Utah and everything, but you might be surprised at how often such dress code battles take place in the public school system nationwide. And this isn't really about some kind of institutional ethnic insensitivity, either. It's about cross-dressing.

Okay, it's about school dress codes in general, too, which exist for the purpose of maintaining institutional order, greatly necessary for executing the schools' primary function of indoctrinating children into a culture of obedience and authority, rather than any sense of what kind of clothing is "inappropriate." That is, many school rules exist only to be followed, an extraordinarily important lesson in the obedience curriculum taught k-12--arbitrary dress codes and school uniform mandates are among the most popular manifestations of this lesson. Student dress code defiance receives an "F" in the obedience curriculum, which usually translates into detention hall or even suspension if the defiance is egregious enough.

But there are sins and there are mortal sins. Boys dressing like girls, in this indoctrination system we call "school," is a mortal sin. Probably because teachers are among the most conventional, boring, and sexually unadventurous individuals in the nation. Cross-dressing freaks them out. So a boy wearing a skirt to school performs the double whammy of dress code defiance coupled with gender-bending. I mean, wearing your shirt untucked might get you a demerit or something, but wearing a skirt makes teachers nervous and weird--generally, boys in dresses get special attention.

Such a reaction essentially supports my assertion that, in our educational system, learning takes a backseat to discipline: coming down hard on student cross-dressers and other clothing individualists literally wastes a marvelous educational opportunity. That is, why can't you cross-dress in public school? That's the discussion every class ought to have in the face this kind of controversy. And I mean a real discussion. One that takes on gender and sexual issues, one that takes on the concept of social norms versus freedom and individualism, one that spawns more questions than it answers. You know, a discussion that fosters critical thinking, the ostensible goal of public education in America.

After all, kids are much more willing to work their brains about issues that have meaning in their own lives, rather than about, say, nineteenth century literature written to be read by college educated middle aged aristocrats instead of teenagers. Indeed, kids want to talk about sex, drugs, rock and roll, religion, money, school rules they hate, stuff that directly affects them right now, stuff that one definitely needs a critical mind in order to have any handle on. By and large, however, such topics are off limits in the public school system. Allowing legitimacy to teenage opinions that counter those of the educational authorities would disrupt institutional order, rendering the authority and obedience mandate severely problematic.

You see, we don't really want to teach kids to think. We say we do. But we don't really try. Actually, given the way we tell kids in school exactly what to do, all day long, every day, for thirteen years of their lives, it's more like trying to beat the thinking out of their brains rather than the reverse. That is, schools teach children to not think.

And sadly, the schools are fairly successful at this task.


Sunday, May 17, 2009


From WGNO TV in New Orleans:

Weather Wreaks Havoc Around New Orleans Area

METAIRIE - As heavy rain moved through the area Saturday night, Jerussa and Les Levy recorded what appeared to be a tornado or waterspout. The couple used a Flipcam and sent the video to ABC26 News.

The funnel was associated with a heavy storm that moved southwest through the Metairie area. Earlier in the evening, people reported seeing a waterspout on Lake Pontchartrain.

There were also reports of minor street flooding and some building damage, especially around Lakeside Shopping Center. Streets with water included 17th and 18th Streets, West Esplanade Avenue, and parts of Causeway Boulevard.

The storm may also have caused a power outage for around 500 homes.

Actually, that's the whole story, so no "more here" link. But if you want to see that I'm not making it up, because I'm a well known liar, click here to see the story in it's original format.

Sadly, the video referenced in the story is not online yet.

From WVUE TV in New Orleans:

Water spout touches down in Lake Pontchartrain

Metairie - A water spout touched down in Lake Pontchartrain near Metairie around 9:00 Saturday night. Severe weather caused minor damage and minor street flooding. No injuries were reported. FOX 8 viewers captured these images.

Same as above. Really small, tiny stories. But there are some pics associated with this one here.

The only reason I find this blogworthy is that I got to see it happen. Okay, that, and how interesting it is to note the discrepancy between what I saw and what was reported.

Here's what happened.

Around nine o'clock or so I was watching television and heard a massive "boom" sound from outside. It had been raining, and heavy thunderstorms were forecast, so I figured it was a transformer going down. Then my power went off. I looked out the sliding glass door of my balcony and saw a mass of sparks flying through the air a couple of blocks away. Another transformer going down.

Then I saw a bunch of debris circling around, headed in my direction. "Whoa, man, this is fucked," I thought. Cars on the street had pulled into parking lots and beside curbs--people were scared. I still wasn't quite grasping what was going on, but started trying to remember what you're supposed to do when a tornado is headed in your direction. A third transformer blew, and by now the first transformer to go down had set fire to the pole it was perched on, which burned despite the rain.

Then the circling debris headed off to the right of my apartment building. "Okay, cool, I'm safe for the moment," I thought. In the darkness, I found my phone and called my ex to compare notes. Apparently, even though she's only a twenty minute drive from where I live, nothing was happening there in the way of severe weather, but she did tell me about some hardcore radar images she had just seen on television right over me in Metairie. As the rain here intensified, I told her I wasn't surprised.

What did surprise me was how the power was restored about forty five minutes later. From what I had seen, I was expecting to be in the dark all night. So I turned on the TV news to see what the local suit and makeup gang had to say about it all. Apparently, there was some confusion as to whether the so-called "waterspout" had touched down on land, which would make it a tornado. It took another half hour before one of the local FOX guys, who was on his day off, called in on his cell phone to confirm the tornado--to the best of my knowledge, they scooped the hell out of their competitors; at the moment, nobody else is reporting this as an actual tornado.

According to this FOX guy, it tore up the roof of a snow cone place just two blocks from me. Fuckin' A. I was less than a football field away from a fucking tornado. And I just stood there and watched like an idiot. Apparently, I'm useless during an emergency.

Anyway, that's my nice quiet Saturday night at home. Just me and a tornado. And my blog. Talk about being long-winded.

Photo courtesy of WWL TV Eyewitness News viewer "j.j.avitia."


Friday, May 15, 2009


Sammy and Frankie

Be sure to check out Modulator's Friday Ark for more cat blogging pics!


Thursday, May 14, 2009


From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:

Obama seeks to block release of abuse photos

President Barack Obama declared Wednesday he would try to block the court-ordered release of photos showing U.S. troops abusing prisoners, abruptly reversing his position out of concern the pictures would "further inflame anti-American opinion" and endanger U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.


The Justice Department immediately filed a notice with the court of its new position on the release, including that it was considering an appeal with the Supreme Court. The government has until June 9 to do so.

Obama said, "I want to emphasize that these photos that were requested in this case are not particularly sensational, especially when compared to the painful images that we remember from Abu Ghraib."

Still, he said he had made it newly clear: "Any abuse of detainees is unacceptable. It is against our values. It endangers our security. It will not be tolerated."

The effort to keep the photos from becoming public represented for many a sharp reversal from Obama's repeated pledges for open government, and in particular from his promise to be forthcoming with information that courts have ruled should be publicly available.

Click here for the rest.

"Not particularly sensational." I wonder.

Seymour Hersh, the reporter who broke the Abu Ghraib scandal, has spoken in interviews about the torture pictures he's seen that weren't released to the US public with the batch that made it out back in 2004. Horrifying pictures. Sodomy pictures. Pictures of teenage boys being raped. Hersh, an old school investigative reporter, a man who compulsively needs to dot his "i's" and cross his "t's", has no reason to lie about such things.

Are these the "not particularly sensational" pictures that would "endanger US forces"? I mean, that's fishy in itself. If the banned pics are "not particularly sensational," of the variety made public five years ago, how on earth could they "endanger US forces"? Everybody's already seen this stuff. People inclined to hate America because it tortures already hate America because it tortures. More photos of naked Iraqi POWs don't reasonably stand to piss off anybody anymore than they already are.

Further, releasing these pics sends out a message that is quite contrary to the images they contain. That is, this is a new president trying to right the wrongs of his successor, trying to come clean, confess our nation's sins, repair the damage. I can't possibly believe another crop of non-sensational abuse pictures would "further inflame anti-American opinion."

Unless, of course, they're photos of hardcore torture and rape. That would inflame the fuck out of everybody. That might conceivably "endanger US forces." It might also put prosecutions of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, et al on the fast track. I wonder if President Obama is having cold feet about potentially putting a former US president on trial for crimes against humanity. Just like Goering and Eichmann.

Conservative blogger Andrew Sullivan, who has in the last couple of years become very disillusioned with the Bush administration he once championed, and others have speculated that Obama's recent torture memo dump is about slowly creating the social circumstances necessary for holding the people who ordered the torture responsible. You know, a leak here, some documents released there, some new pictures over there. Step by step bringing the US public to the inescapable conclusion that justice must be done.

I don't know if I buy such speculation, but if that's actually the case, and these "not particularly sensational" photos are indeed the horrific images to which Hersh refers, Obama might very well have chickened out.

I guess we'll see.



From Wikipedia:

"Charlie X" is a first season episode of the original series of Star Trek, first broadcast on September 15, 1966. It was repeated by NBC on June 1, 1967. It is episode #2, production #8. It was written by D.C. Fontana, with the story by Gene Roddenberry, and directed by Lawrence Dobkin.

Overview: The Enterprise picks up an unstable teenage boy with dangerous mental powers.

More here.

Okay, not my favorite. Indeed, when I would watch this episode as a kid, I always had some embarrassment for Charlie's youthful stupidity, the same kind of feeling I got watching virtually every episode of The Brady Bunch, something along the lines of "this kid's making us all look like idiots." To this day, I still kind of just stare at the floor during Charlie's dorkiest moments.

On the other hand, maybe I should give "Charlie X" more credit: it moves me emotionally, and that's something of an artistic accomplishment.

At any rate, despite it tending to make me ashamed to have ever been a kid, there are some high points. Spock plays the Vulcan lyre while Uhura sings. Kirk performs kung fu while shirtless and glistening with sweat. Yeoman Rand is arguably at her hottest in this one. And there is also one of the creepiest moments I've ever seen on television: Charlie uses his psychic powers to render a woman faceless.

If you really want to see the classic sci-fi theme of the boy who got God's power, you're probably better off digging up the old Twilight Zone gem "It's a Good Life." But "Charlie X" is well worth watching, if only to see actor Robert Walker, Jr.'s honest and earnest work playing the title role--three years after the episode was shot, Walker recites the agonizingly ceremonial but great prayer during the commune scene in Easy Rider.

Check it out:


Tuesday, May 12, 2009


From AlterNet:

The GOP Clings to Guns, Gays, God, and "Go-Home"

They are up against the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Lou Dobbs, Dick Cheney and other extreme right-wing forces who fear that the nation -- not simply the GOP -- is in danger of losing its national narrative, the myths and legends that have been part of the national psyche and character since its founding.

Arguably, the more conservative wing of the American political spectrum is correct: the old America they cling to no longer exists. And yet, the narrative that the more moderate council longs for -- one that views America as the beacon of the world, as the land of truth, freedom and liberty and justice for all -- is also a myth.

That narrative has always downplayed genocide, land theft and removal, slavery, segregation and legalized discrimination. Nowadays, it downplays border walls, racial profiling and an ever-expanding racialized prison system. The narrative has also downplayed the notion of empire and militarism, instead converting these imperial projects with the notion of a God-given right to "civilize" or dominate the world. This is the idea of Manifest Destiny. It is what drove our recent president, George W. Bush in his war against the Arab and Islamic world; he was on a mission from God. This is why U.S. and international laws were easily ignored or discarded; he was answering to a higher authority.

In this sense, both wings of the Republican Party are similar; both want to promote great American mythologies.

More here.

What's a liberal to do when a conservative uses as support for his pro-war arguments that America is "the greatest country in the world" and that we're simply bringing "freedom" to the nations we invade and occupy? Generally, before launching into an infinite number of possible responses, which are usually good counterarguments, said liberal will give lip service to our "greatest country" status, and concede that "freedom" is a wonderful thing: immediately, before he can even get to the meat of the discussion, our hypothetical liberal has already diluted his rebuttal, from a rhetorical if not substantive perspective.

That is, the liberal may be right in such a debate, but he just doesn't feel right. This is along the lines of Stephen Colbert's notion of "truthiness." I mean, you know, America is not the greatest country in the world. Indeed, there are many things about our nation that are great - for instance, we're definitely the most free society on the planet - but how is it even possible to determine that we're the greatest? Right. We can't possibly determine such a thing; it's entirely subjective. But we've had that notion drilled into our heads since before we were even in kindergarten. Even though it's not true, we believe it in our hearts.

In some ways, there's nothing wrong with this. It's good to have some pride in your culture, in your heritage, in who you are. But when such pride stands in the way of understanding reality, you have an enormous problem. As the proverb goes, pride comes before a fall, and the US has been falling down a lot lately.

Liberals, who tend to question authority and conventional wisdom, understand that America is not the greatest country in the world. But we also tend to feel guilty about embracing that truth. Consequently, we're almost always vulnerable to the "greatest country" rhetorical device. Things are so bad at the moment that American-mythology-as-argument doesn't play so well, but it's only a matter of time before some Reaganesqe "morning in America" figure steps up with the right wording to make such rhetoric once again devastating to common sense liberal positions.

How will liberals deal with this? "Peace is patriotic" failed miserably during the runup to the Iraq invasion: it seems extraordinarily difficult to twist American exceptionalism to meet liberal ends. Likewise, it seems nearly impossible to unravel lifelong mythology indoctrination during a single debate--indeed, even taking such an argumentative slant leaves a liberal open to the harsh "antiAmerican" attack.

Really, the only solution is long term: teach US history differently; show the good and the bad. Hopefully, and eventually, most Americans would end up having a more realistic understanding of what we are and what we're capable of. But there is fierce resistance to teaching real history--there are many who embrace the mythology over the reality, and they will go to great lengths to prevent such a thing.

This is a big problem. How do we reconcile love of country with practical self-analysis? It's not easy to look at yourself in the mirror. But the stakes are high. It's not simply national survival that's on the line. We're talking about the future of the world here.


Monday, May 11, 2009

100,000 HITS!

I almost forgot to notice this:

And it only took me six and a half years to get there.

Meanwhile, the big guns like Atrios and Kos get hundreds of thousands of hits every day. But no big deal, right? That's one of the things that's changed for me since the early days: I'm not so worried about becoming a bigtime blogger anymore. I mean, fame would be nice, very nice indeed, but I quickly realized that a desire for lots of people to read my words isn't what keeps me doing this everyday. Rather, it's therapeutic. Instead of getting pissed off at the news all the time with nothing more to do about it than bore my friends with endless ranting like I used to do, now I can rant with a sense that somebody, at least, somewhere, is hearing what I have to say--apolitical and non-artsy friends of mine greatly benefit from this in the non-cyber world, and a few of them who are foolish enough to read my opinions online seem to be getting something out of all this blogging, too.

And, of course, my ego is greatly stroked whenever one of those foolish friends approaches me in my daily life and tells me about something they read here at Real Art.

Beyond all the self-therapy my blogging affords me, I also believe it's made me smarter. Most of what I do here is about formulating arguments. I mean, okay, I post pictures of my cats and my Star Trek calendar and all that, but the vast majority of my Real Art writing is about refining ideas, figuring out what I think about the world and my place in it. It's a hassle at times - last night I only had one drink after work, telling my restaurant comrades that I had to stay sober so I could post on my blog - but it's rewarding overall: I'm much sharper these days in real world discussions about politics, movies, music, religion, you name it, whatever I'm writing about at Real Art.

There's nothing like reading over a post I made a week or two ago and saying to myself, "Yeah, that's right! You go, girl!" I've also found that whatever creative urge has made me waste my life chasing the theater or writing songs has found an outlet in my blogging: I often feel the same sense of satisfaction with my work here that I do in my more traditional artistic endeavors.

Anyway, congratulations to me! I'll celebrate again when I make it to 500,000 hits.



From the Huffington Post:

Petraeus: al-Qaida not operating in Afghanistan

The chief of the U.S. Central Command says al-Qaida no longer is operating in Afghanistan. But Gen. David Petraeus (peh-TRAY'-uhs) says affiliated organizations still have "enclaves and sanctuaries" in the country.

Petraeus says al-Qaida, which carried out the Sept. 11 attacks, has suffered "very significant losses" in recent months in its hide-outs across the rugged, mountainous border in Pakistan.

Click here for video of the CNN interview.

And from the New York Times courtesy of the Huffington Post news wire:

Shaky Pakistan Is Seen as a Target of Plots by Al Qaeda

As Taliban militants push deeper into Pakistan’s settled areas, foreign operatives of Al Qaeda who had focused on plotting attacks against the West are seizing on the turmoil to sow chaos in Pakistan and strengthen the hand of the militant Islamist groups there, according to American and Pakistani intelligence officials.


It remains unlikely that Islamic militants could seize power in Pakistan, given the strength of Pakistan’s military, according to American intelligence analysts. But a senior American intelligence official expressed concern that recent successes by the Taliban in extending territorial gains could foreshadow the creation of “mini-Afghanistans” around Pakistan that would allow militants even more freedom to plot attacks.

American government officials and terrorism experts said that Al Qaeda’s increasing focus on a local strategy was partly born from necessity, as the C.I.A.’s intensifying airstrikes have reduced the group’s ability to hit targets in the West. The United States has conducted 16 drone strikes so far this year, according to American officials, compared with 36 strikes in all of 2008.


For now, however, Obama administration officials say they believe that the covert airstrikes are the best tool at their disposal to strike at Al Qaeda inside Pakistan, which remains the group’s most important haven, but where large numbers of American combat forces would never be welcome.

More here.

To sum up: Al Qaeda, the Islamic extremist terrorist organization responsible for 9/11, has left Afghanistan and moved into Pakistan, where we can only take potshots at them. Setting aside for the moment the question of why US troops remain in Afghanistan even though their reason for being there in the first place has evaporated, one must marvel at US impotency on the terrorist issue.

That's the real story here. We invaded Afghanistan and disrupted Al Qaeda operations for a time, but this did nothing more than force the terrorist organization to move to an adjacent country in order to regroup. And we can't really touch them in Pakistan. We can't invade: the Pakistanis not only wouldn't like it, but they have nukes, and we're just not going to fuck with that. And the limited attacks we've actually been able to make haven't amounted to much more than aggravating the proverbial hornets' nest.

If Iraq and Afghanistan were unwinnable, then this is worse.

But that's always been the problem with the "War on Terror." We can't win. At least, we can't win militarily. Wars are about defeating armies, but terrorists aren't armies. They're political operatives who use violence to further their ends. And that's a key point totally ignored by the US establishment: Al Qaeda has political and cultural goals.

And some of those goals, like insisting that the West stops treating Islamic peoples as resources to be exploited, are quite reasonable. Until the US power establishment can address, at least, some of these concerns, terrorism will continue to be a very real problem.

Of course, if we want to really get serious about treating the Islamic world in a fair and just way, it means changing, as conservative historian Andrew Bacevich asserts, a great deal of how America does business around the world, which necessarily includes a great deal of how America does business at home. Unfortunately, that seems unlikely. I expect the so-called "long war," or what I like to call "the pointless war," to continue for the foreseeable future.


Saturday, May 09, 2009


From ScienceBlogs courtesy of the Daily Kos:

Times Exposes Industry's Global Warming Deceit

The New York Times exposes an internal document from the Global Climate Coalition, a group funded by the oil and auto industries, that shows that their own scientists were confirming the reality of human-caused global warming and the effects of greenhouse gasses as early as 15 years ago even while publicly trying to dispute that reality.

The document is from 1995 and it was a "primer" on the various issues being sent around to the auto companies for approval. It essentially admits that global warming is real and human-caused, that many of the counter-arguments are false and that we don't yet have good enough predictive technology to know the full effects, especially in local areas.

More here.

Last nail in the coffin.

Really, that ought to just about do it. When the scientists employed by the most vociferous of global warming deniers to "authenticate" their bogus view don't take the party line, you know it's over. I mean, of course it's not over. People who deny global warming are motivated by money and ideology, rather than reality, and will continue to bog down policy discussion with their bullshit until the severest effects of climate change become manifest, maybe even after that--it is a fair assumption, even, that most of these deniers believe their own lies.

But the fact that oil industry climatologists have long known about global warming ought to make for a handy rhetorical device when shutting up right-wingers who spout nonsense refuting scientific consensus on the issue. And the fact that Big Oil successfully hushed this report up for so many years ought to make all global warming dissenters suspect--we've got hard evidence now that the big guns on the other side of the "debate" tampered with the jury; why should we believe anything you people say?

Like I said, it's not entirely over, but the bullshit's end is in sight. That's a good thing.


Friday, May 08, 2009


Dash and Reine

Be sure to check out Modulator's Friday Ark for more cat blogging pics!


Thursday, May 07, 2009

Why are frequent churchgoers more likely to support torture?

From CNN via Crooks and Liars:

The poll finds that of more than half of Americans who attend church services at least once a week, 54 percent say the use of torture is often or sometimes justified.

Only 42 percent of people who seldom or never go to church agree…

Evangelical Protestants are the religious group most likely to agree; while people unaffiliated with any religious group are least likely to support torture.

More here, with video.

In one sense, this seems counter intuitive. I mean, church goers follow the philosophy of Jesus, who said "love your enemies" and "let he who is without sin throw the first stone," among other things. Such philosophical maxims seem completely incompatible with torture.

On the other hand, church goers also believe that Hell is right and good, and that all human beings deserve to go to there when they shed their mortal coils--only Jesus worship can alter this fated destiny, and only for certain select individuals at that. And what is Hell but the universe's greatest and most horrific torture chamber? I mentioned this recently on Easter Sunday, but it is well worth repeating: being a Christian necessarily means believing that there is an important and righteous place in the moral order for torture. That is, the flip side to "love thy neighbor" is that God will brutally and eternally torture thy neighbor for you when the time is right.

In short, and in spite of all that Christian love and charity, Christianity is a religion that celebrates torture. When you look at it that way, it is no surprise at all that church goers support torture and people who sleep in on Sundays do not. It also tends to explain the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the Catholic pedophilia scandal, and a whole lot more.

Just shoot me if you ever hear I've started going to church again.



From Wikipedia:

"The Naked Time" is an episode of Star Trek: The Original Series first broadcast September 29, 1966, and repeated on April 27, 1967. It is a first season episode #4, production #7, and was written by John D. F. Black and directed by Marc Daniels. It has a sequel in Star Trek: The Next Generation, the episode "The Naked Now".

Overview: A strange affliction infects the crew of the Enterprise, destroying their inhibitions.

More here.

Not only is this one of my favorites, I would easily put it in my top five. I mean, this one's incredible. Spock cries. Sulu runs around shirtless with a rapier. Reilly, a character who appears in only two episodes but became an eternal fan favorite, shuts down the engines while belting Irish drinking songs to the ship over the intercom. Scotty says, "I've got to have thirty minutes" to restart the warp drive as the Enterprise plunges rapidly toward certain destruction.

Seven episodes into the series and they had it completely figured out.

No matter how good the new Star Trek movie ends up being, it will be impossible to top The Naked Time. It's that great.

Check it out:


Wednesday, May 06, 2009

How tax havens helped to create a crisis

From the London Financial Times courtesy of the Huffington Post news wire:

Take hedge funds, for example. The tax authorities in the US and the UK have accepted a lax interpretation of residence and source rules, accepting that these funds are resident and their profits sourced offshore (mostly in the Cayman Islands) – even though they are effectively managed from London and New York. Not only are the funds’ gains treated as realised in Cayman, and hence not taxable, but their distributions are not subject to withholding tax – a great benefit for their investors. The funds’ location in a secrecy jurisdiction facilitates tax avoidance and is an open invitation to evasion.

For multinationals and rich investors the point is the same: returns on financial transactions are ultimately taxed at a low or zero rate, making them far more profitable than genuine business endeavours. This distortion of the tax system has greatly fuelled the excess of liquidity channelled into largely speculative financial transactions. The offshore secrecy system has been a main element of the opacity that has undermined corporate and financial regulation.

More here.

Some years back I told a conservative friend whose brother ran a hedge fund that based its corporate "headquarters" in the Caymans for tax reasons, even though it actually operated out of Houston, that doing so was anti-American. Whether it's legal or not is irrelevant, I told him: the net effect is to evade paying taxes, which are dues that all American citizens and businesses owe for the privilege of living and operating in the relatively safe and economically prosperous environment known as the United States. He stuttered in indignation that I would make such an assertion. To him, maximizing profits for investors is a company's only responsibility, and that's as American as apple pie.

Well, maybe. Okay, probably not.

The point is that companies have no national loyalties. Indeed, they have no loyalties at all, except to themselves. Such disloyalty renders severely problematic the notion of corporation-as-legal-citizen, but the more important conclusion we can make from businesses' sense of self-loyalty is that you can only count on them to do the right thing if it makes a better profit--that means that if doing the wrong thing makes more money, businesses will do it, and that happens literally all the time.

Indeed, the only thing guaranteeing that a business will do the right thing is regulation with teeth. And in a political and cultural landscape such as ours where regulation is always strongly suspected as being anti-business, it's extraordinarily difficult to get business to consistently do the right thing.

Case in point: the buttloads of liquidity, that is, free cash, redistributed to the enormously wealthy, via these legal tax havens, ending up creating global financial instability in the form of popped bubbles. In a sane regulatory and tax environment, such free money would be redirected into the real economy, the side of business dealing with making and selling stuff, which creates jobs and long term economic growth, as opposed to the paper economy, which wheels and deals with cash and speculation, often losing the farm in stupid investments.

Two lessons here. First, there are real consequences beyond simple fairness when you allow the rich to get richer while the poor get poorer: when flush with ridiculous amounts of capital, the rich tend to go to Vegas, rather than invest their booty wisely, as conventional wisdom asserts. Second, when you let capitalists do whatever they want to do, they tend to go crazy or moronic. Sometimes so crazy that they bring the whole house down on themselves and everybody else, which is what's happening right now.

I really do hope the ruling class is paying attention to what's going on out there.