FACTS DON'T MATTER
From the New York Times, Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman on Republican opposition to the recently passed global warming bill:
Betraying the Planet
But if you watched the debate on Friday, you didn’t see people who’ve thought hard about a crucial issue, and are trying to do the right thing. What you saw, instead, were people who show no sign of being interested in the truth. They don’t like the political and policy implications of climate change, so they’ve decided not to believe in it — and they’ll grab any argument, no matter how disreputable, that feeds their denial.
Indeed, if there was a defining moment in Friday’s debate, it was the declaration by Representative Paul Broun of Georgia that climate change is nothing but a “hoax” that has been “perpetrated out of the scientific community.” I’d call this a crazy conspiracy theory, but doing so would actually be unfair to crazy conspiracy theorists. After all, to believe that global warming is a hoax you have to believe in a vast cabal consisting of thousands of scientists — a cabal so powerful that it has managed to create false records on everything from global temperatures to Arctic sea ice.
Yet Mr. Broun’s declaration was met with applause.
You know, it isn't at all unreasonable to say that dealing with global warming stands to gravely damage the economy, and therefore we ought to find ways of minimizing that damage as much as possible. It's never been unreasonable to say that. But that's not what conservatives did. Instead, they just straight-up denied that global warming is happening, or asserted that it will actually benefit the planet, or that it's a naturally occurring phenomenon, meaning we can't do anything about it. Needless to say, climate change denial and its goofy variants are entirely unreasonable. And, because conservatives have greatly warped public discourse with their non-stop global warming bullshit, it's extraordinarily dangerous, to boot.
This is doubly maddening because, beneath all the paranoid lies, conservatives have a point. Dealing with global warming will hurt industry and cost a lot of money. I mean, it's something we absolutely have to do, but there will definitely be costs. If the right wing had been honest with their concerns from the get-go, they would have earned a seat at the negotiating table. Instead, they shot their credibility, and have to watch from the sidelines. Nobody trusts them on this issue now.
Indeed, speaking more generally, this is one of the major problems facing conservatives right now. From sex education to evolution to weapons of mass destruction to magic markets to pollution and on and on, conservatives have long been content to ignore hard data in favor of the imagined realities that they desire. This actually worked well for them for many years, rhetorically pounding their opponents on the head with conservative "reality," confusing an already confused corporate news media which was all too happy to provide megaphones for the broadcasting of fiction. But it's all falling apart now. Reality, in the end, doesn't really give a shit what you say about it. That is, you can't argue for very long with the ground about whether you're falling toward it from a cliff before you become a splotch.
And even some Republicans are starting to understand this. I sincerely hope that if and when conservatives decide to embrace the notion that reality is actually real, we can return to some semblance of normal debate about issues. I mean, what we've got right now is just silly.
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
FACTS DON'T MATTER
Posted by Ron at 10:03 PM
Monday, June 29, 2009
Transformers sequel may be most-panned film to top $400M
From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:
After just five days, "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" is halfway to $400 million in the U.S., a box-office milestone only eight other movies have reached. If it climbs that high, the "Transformers" sequel will be by far the worst-reviewed movie ever to make the $400 million club.
Critics and mainstream crowds often disagree, but "Revenge of the Fallen" sets a new standard for the gulf between what reviewers and mass audiences like.
The movie pulled in $201.2 million since opening Wednesday, the second-best result for a movie in its first five days, just behind "The Dark Knight" with $203.8 million. Even after its whopping $60.6 million opening day, "Revenge of the Fallen" was packing theaters, a sign that unlike critics, who mostly hated the movie, audiences felt they were getting their money's worth and were giving the flick good word of mouth.
Critics "forget what the goal of the movie was. The goal of the movie is to entertain and have fun," said Rob Moore, vice chairman of Paramount, which is distributing "Transformers" for DreamWorks. "What the audience tells us is, 'We couldn't be more entertained and having more fun.' They kind of roll their eyes at the critics and say, 'You have no idea what you're talking about.'"
According to Paramount's exit polls, 91 percent of the audience thought the sequel was as good as or better than the first "Transformers," which received far better reviews.
Well, as the pollsters say, if you ask the right questions you'll get the answers you're looking for. That is, saying that Transformers II is "as good or better" than Transformers I is like saying that vomit is "as good or better" than shit: they're both awful, but that's not what the question's about. Really, my overall take, as far as moviegoers' taste is concerned, is that audience standards have fallen in tandem with the quality of Hollywood movies over the years--to return to my metaphor, when all you have on the menu is vomit and shit, vomit and shit don't look half bad.
But there's more to it than that.
It is in no way surprising that a shitty movie can get a massive first week take in this day and age, especially when said shitty movie is a high budget action craptacular. Remember, Hollywood is a business, and since the 80s, it's been big business. Big blockbusters, then, are massive corporate investments in hot pursuit of massive returns. When you've got hundreds of millions of dollars on the line, failure simply cannot be tolerated. That's why these huge investments are always accompanied by huge marketing campaigns virtually guaranteed to get some decent audiences during the first week.
That is, people show up without any understanding that the movie is any good; they're checking it out based on the hype. Later, after a couple of weeks, when it becomes achingly clear that Hollywood's latest Stallone or Schwarzenegger or Willis project sucks donkey cock, and ticket sales consequently plunge dramatically, it matters little to the corporations that own the studios. That's because the real money doesn't come from the box office: most movies make their profits later on down the distribution chain. But first week box office sales are important in that a good opening strongly bolsters foreign market, DVD, and television sales. In other words, even though the movie theater market generates a pittance for a given film relative to later venues, a killer opening week is a vital sales point in generating massive profits after the given film's theatrical run has ended.
So a multi-million dollar action film simply has to succeed in its first week. Otherwise, it's guaranteed to be a financial failure, whether it's good or not. I mean, what cable company wants to pay-per-view a movie that nobody showed up to watch in the theaters? Opening week numbers are what Hollywood uses to push its products in these post-release markets. Consequently, massive marketing campaigns always accompany massive budget pictures. Sometimes this doesn't work, but it's a good business model, and it usually succeeds.
I think that's what's happening with this Transformers sequel. If ticket sales continue to be strong over the next few weeks, then I have no idea what I'm talking about. But I'm betting that as the hype fades, so too will audiences. Of course, in many ways that doesn't matter one way or the other. Transformers II got its big opening week. Hollywood will make its money. And we'll have some more crap to surf through on cable in about six months or so.
Posted by Ron at 11:58 PM
Sunday, June 28, 2009
Fewer clean-air violations found in states that spent more
From the Houston Chronicle:
Researcher Victor Flatt, a University of North Carolina professor of environmental law, said that while the findings may seem obvious, some states prefer to give industries more leeway to police themselves rather than spend more on regulatory efforts. This so-called cooperative approach became popular in the 1980s, as some states looked to save money.
The researchers don’t rule out that lower-cost, business-friendly carrots can work in some cases, or in tandem with regulatory sticks. But states can’t protect the environment on the cheap, they found.
Of the 17 states in the study, Texas ranked ahead of only Connecticut in per capita spending on environmental programs in 2003, the most recent data used.
That last little bit, if it wasn't entirely clear to you, means that out of the fifty states, Texas ranked forty ninth in enforcement spending, which is no surprise at all. Well, maybe a bit of a surprise: how is it that Texas got beat out for last by a Yankee state? We may never know.
But this story about enforcement spending delicately tip-toes around a fact almost never mentioned in corporate news sources such as the Chronicle. Private industry can only be trusted to maximize profit. That's the same thing as saying that private industry cannot ever be trusted to do the right thing. Unless there's some profit in it. Of course, there's no profit in ensuring that people aren't poisoned by toxic emissions, so why would they bother?
No, private industry must be forced to do the right thing. And such enforcement must be real, with actual results, not the bullshit window dressing "voluntary" compliance they've had in Texas since Bush was governor in the 90s. It's amusing that the "cooperative approach" is attributed in the excerpt above to states' desire to save money. I mean, lowering government costs may very well have played a role here, but show me a state with a Republican legislature and I'll show you a state falling over itself to allow industry to pollute more--that is, deregulation-as-philosophy is no doubt a much bigger drive for the "cooperative approach" than a desire to save money, despite the fact that such anti-pollution regulations save tens of thousands of lives a year.
You know, this isn't rocket science: if you don't watch the fox, he'll eat the fucking hens.
Or, if you prefer, if you don't watch the rooster, he'll fuck the hens. Either way.
Posted by Ron at 10:36 PM
Saturday, June 27, 2009
Stonewall Riots 40th Anniversary: A Look Back at the
Uprising that Launched the Modern Gay Rights Movement
From Democracy Now:
AMY GOODMAN: And how did attitudes change afterwards towards the gay community?
DAVID CARTER: Well, I think, you know, there was a lot of immediate admiration on the part of straight people watching it. They thought, “Wow, you know, we thought you guys would never fight back. Good for you.” Of course, many straight people mocked it. They thought, you know—there was one person said, “Oh, my god, now the fairies are revolting!” It’s like, you know, “Oh, my god, first, you know, black people were acting up, and women are acting up. My god, now even homosexuals are acting up!” So, you know, there were many disparate reactions, both immediately and in the longer run.
AMY GOODMAN: You’re now making a film about this. And how does Stonewall forty years ago relate to what we’re talking about today? I mean, in our next segment we’ll be speaking with a writer about how, at this point, it’s marriage and the military that are the flashpoint issues for the gay community.
DAVID CARTER: You know, what frustrates me—look, I’m all for those issues being addressed, believe me, but what frustrates me is I feel that so often people forget we have the same civil rights protections on a federal level as we had at the time of Stonewall: zero. Congress has not passed one law that gives us any federal protection. In 2005, four years ago, 90 percent of the American public, according to the Gallup poll, said that the—you know, it should not be possible to fire a person because they’re gay. We’re not at this point asking Congress or the Obama administration to lead; we’re asking them to follow at this point. We’re asking them to follow. Can’t they even do that?
Click here to watch, read, or listen to the rest.
As I've probably mentioned here before, Stonewall is my favorite people's uprising. I mean, never mind the entertainment value from dozens of drag queens kicking the shit out of asshole NYPD officers with their high heels: even though I'm not gay, the movement started back in 1969 is almost as meaningful to me as it is to the Queer community. And most likely to you too.
While the gay rights movement has done an extraordinarily good job of emulating the various civil rights movements preceding it, likening the plight of homosexuals to similar struggles for women's and African-Americans' rights, the reality is that gays and straights are so similar, literally living together within the same socioeconomic groups, that, in the end, there is no real difference between gay rights and straight rights. That is, the gay rights movement is ultimately a human rights movement.
Seriously. This is about the freedom to love whoever you want to love. This is about control over one's own body, about physical and biological autonomy. This is about access to health care. This is about the freedom to not conform; this is about being the person you want to be.
And the gay rights movement isn't simply about identity and gay sex. It's also about sex defined more generally. The movement was way out in front on the concept of safe sex and STD awareness, even while public schools were being pushed into dangerous and absurd "abstinence based" sex ed programs. While the overall sexual revolution collapsed into the meaningless bipolarity of Christian anti-sex Puritanism versus capitalist exploitation back in the 80s, the Queer community continued to celebrate human sexuality as a wonderful aspect of ourselves, while mixing in messages of sexual health and pragmatism. That is, the only intelligent voice out there on sexuality for the last twenty years has been the gay rights movement.
So that's why I always like to celebrate a bit for Pride weekend. Not only do I stand in solidarity with my Queer brothers and sisters, but I also understand that my own personal fate, and yours, is permanently intertwined with the fates of gays and lesbians. In many ways, it's our fight.
Posted by Ron at 11:49 PM
Friday, June 26, 2009
Thursday, June 25, 2009
Thanks for all the wonderful couples' skates.
Posted by Ron at 11:09 PM
FROM THE REAL ART SPORTS DESK
ONE OF MY TWO COLLEGES JUST WON THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP!!!
Unfortunately, it wasn't the one I preferred.
From the AP via ESPN:
Mitchell, Ochinko homer as LSU wins CWS championship
OMAHA, Neb. -- LSU's down cycle is over.
A program that two years ago wasn't good enough to qualify for its conference tournament is the best team in college baseball again.
The Tigers won their sixth national title Wednesday night, breaking open Game 3 of the College World Series finals with a five-run sixth inning that carried them to an 11-4 victory over Texas.
Okay, I was really really really happy when LSU won the national championship in college football a couple of years back. Because, you know, I got my master's degree from LSU, and I now count myself as a citizen in good standing of the Tiger nation. Geaux Tigers, and all that! But last night, even though the Tigers won a national championship, this time in baseball, I was a bit bummed.
Texas lost the national championship. And that's where my primary loyalty lies.
This was never supposed to happen. Texas plays in the Big 12; LSU plays in the SEC. They almost never face one another. Except under extraordinary circumstances. Like national championships. I mean, when I entered LSU back in '04, I had it all figured out: if Texas ever plays LSU, I'll have to support Texas, my first school, no problem.
But this was harsh. As with the first two games in the series, I was at work, and had to watch in bits and pieces at the bar when I could pull myself away from my tables. Here in NOLA, everybody was rooting for the Tigers, and I'm usually part of that rowdy mass. But not this time. And because I was one of only three Texans on the waitstaff, I had a target on my chest. People were giving me a lot of shit, even before the Tigers put it away in the sixth. I mean, friendly shit, but shit nonetheless. I kept saying, "I'm a Tiger, too," but nobody cared. And why would they?
You know, I would have been pissed if OU had beaten us. Same with A&M. But this is just a drag. I feel like I should be celebrating, but I also feel like we lost. At least when somebody around here tries to lord it over me I can always come back with "Hey, I fucking have a degree from LSU."
Mark Saltz/The Advocate
Posted by Ron at 10:21 PM
THE GALILEO SEVEN
"The Galileo Seven" is an episode of Star Trek: The Original Series. It is a first season episode #16, production #14, written by Oliver Crawford and directed by Robert Gist. It was broadcast by NBC on January 5, 1967.
Overview: Mr. Spock leads a scientific team aboard the Enterprise shuttlecraft Galileo on an ill-fated mission.
One of the all time greats. To me, anyway. I don't think that I've heard many Star Trek fans going on about this one the way they do about "Mirror, Mirror" or "City on the Edge of Forever," but if you really are a fan, this one has a lot to sink your teeth into. Most notably, it's a Spock episode, relegating Kirk to only a few brief scenes on the bridge while his first officer leads the away team. While I love Kirk, Spock definitely deserves his day as commander. And this one doesn't disappoint in that department. Spock becomes increasingly frustrated with the logical but ineffective decisions he makes, all the while hounded by his team for his lack of emotion--indeed, the friction between Doctor McCoy and Spock, always fun to watch, gets as hot as ever in this one. In the end, Spock resorts to a wild and irrational gamble, which he absolutely and wrongly insists is utterly logical, to save his team.
He is half human, after all.
Beyond the Spock showcase, "The Galileo Seven" has some generally fun Trek stuff. Red shirts get offed by science fiction caveman monsters. An African-American officer besides Uhura is prominently featured. I'm not one hundred percent sure, but this may be the first episode to feature a Star Fleet shuttle craft. And we can't forget the usage of a favorite Star Trek plot device, the meddling, arrogant presence on the bridge of a Star Fleet official who wants to fuck everything up.
Yep, this one's fucking great. Check it out:
Posted by Ron at 12:03 AM
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
"Suck on Our Yachts"
Matt Taibbi uses his razor wit to slice up Goldman Sach's non-apology apology for destroying the finance and credit markets, from AlterNet:
Let's be clear about what that meant. These crap/sham mortgages, a lot of them adjustable-rate deals with teaser rates that featured sudden rate hikes two or three years after closing, they would never have been possible had not someone devised a method for selling them off to secondary buyers. No local bank is going to keep millions of dollars worth of Alt-A mortgages on its books, because no sensible company lends out money to very risky customers and actually keeps those loans on its balance sheet.
So this system depended almost entirely on banks like Goldman finding ways to securitize these instruments, ie chop the mortgages up into little bits, repackage them as mortgage-backed securities like CDOs and CMOs, and sell them to unsuspecting customers on the secondary market, most of them large institutional buyers like pensions and insurance companies and workers' unions, many of them foreigners.
This isn't really commerce, but much more like organized crime: it was a gigantic fraud perpetrated on the economy that wouldn't have been possible without accomplices in the ratings agencies and regulators willing to turn a blind eye. Imagine a meat company that bred ten billion rats, fattened them on trash and sewage, ground their bodies into chuck, and then sold it all as grade-A ground beef to McDonald's and Burger King, right under the noses of the USDA: this is exactly the same thing, only with debt instead of food. We're eating it, they're counting the money.
So, as you may know, I really dig Taibbi because of his ability to make me laugh self-righteously while he skewers the powerful entities that fuck us over on a daily basis. But to type him as simply a funny guy is to miss the fact that his analysis is always dead on. I've compared him to Hunter S. Thompson, but in the most important ways he's more like I. F. Stone with a black sense of humor.
Case in point: Taibbi's assertion that the subprime mortgage crisis is less of a systemic failure of the banking and finance industries than it is the result of straight up fraud. That is, the crash resulted from what amounts to a criminal enterprise.
I mean, c'mon. I'm willing to believe that many of the players involved were innocent dupes, but some of these people had to know exactly what was going on. How can one make "mistakes" that result in triple-A security ratings for loans made to people who can't possibly pay them back? The way that Goldman Sachs is coming out of this smelling like roses, the way that so many of GS's alumni have managed the crisis from insider positions within both the Bush and Obama administrations, the way the Fed bailed out AIG, who owed GS hundreds of billions in insurance payouts for subprime losses, but not GS rival Lehmann Brothers, well, they call New Orleans corrupt, but the Big Easy's got nothing on these guys.
As Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid recently said of the relationship between bankers and Congress, "Frankly, they own the place." Meanwhile, President Obama offers financial "reform" that by and large allows to remain intact the same regulatory structure that was incapable of stopping this grand scale Mafia work in the first place.
Personally, I think we'd all be better off if John Gotti was running the country.
Posted by Ron at 10:49 PM
Monday, June 22, 2009
FROM THE REAL ART SPORTS DESK
LSU rallies to topple Texas in 11th in Game 1 of CWS finals
From the AP via ESPN:
OMAHA, Neb. -- Mikie Mahtook singled in the winning run in the top of the 11th inning after DJ LeMahieu tied the game in the ninth, and LSU survived Texas' five home runs to beat the Longhorns 7-6 in Game 1 of the College World Series finals Monday night.
LSU (55-16) would win its sixth national title with a victory over the Longhorns (49-15-1) on Tuesday night.
Texas is the first team since LSU in 1998 to homer three times in an inning at the CWS.
So, as you may know, I hold alumnus status with both Texas and LSU, which means that either way, my team wins. Of course, the flip side to that is that either way my team loses. But who am I kidding? I spent much more time in Austin than I did in Baton Rouge. I've got burnt orange blood. Tonight, it felt like my team lost.
I didn't really get to sit down and enjoy the game because I had to work, but it was slow, so I spent a lot of time in the bar checking the score, watching a few at bats here and there. From what I could tell, I really would have enjoyed the game, at least until the eleventh inning. I mean, one thing is pretty clear: both the Tigers and the Longhorns deserve to be in the CWS finals. There was some kickass shit out there on the diamond tonight. And for a moment or two there in the top of the ninth, it looked like the 'Horns were going to pull it off. But no. The Tigers managed to be just a little bit better in the eleventh. Harsh.
Ordinarily, I'd say "geaux Tigers" at this point, but it just doesn't seem right, all things considered. Instead, I'll say "hook 'em 'Horns!" We can still pull it off.
UPDATE: Texas wins to force game three!
Longhorn Connor Rowe is out at first as LSU Tigers Ryan Schimpf celebrates.
Ricardo B. Brazziell AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Posted by Ron at 11:34 PM
Sunday, June 21, 2009
From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:
Struggle among Iran's clerics bursts into the open
TEHRAN, Iran — A backstage struggle among Iran's ruling clerics burst into the open Sunday when the government said it had arrested the daughter and other relatives of an ayatollah who is one of the country's most powerful men.
State media said the daughter and four other relatives of former President Hashemi Rafsanjani were later released but their arrests appeared to be a clear warning from the hard-line establishment to a cleric who may be aligning himself with the opposition.
Tehran's streets fell mostly quiet for the first time since a bitterly disputed June 12 presidential election, but cries of "God is great!" echoed again from rooftops after dark, a sign of seething anger at a government crackdown that peaked with at least 10 protesters' deaths Saturday.
The killings drove the official death toll to at least 17 after a week of massive street demonstrations by protesters who say hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stole his re-election win. But searing images posted online — including gruesome video purporting to show the fatal shooting of a teenage girl — hinted the true toll may be higher.
Police and the feared Basij militia swarmed the streets of Tehran to prevent more protests and the government intensified a crackdown on independent media — expelling a BBC correspondent, suspending the Dubai-based network Al-Arabiya and detaining at least two local journalists for U.S. magazines.
Here's my take: this is really difficult to understand.
Admittedly, it's all very exciting. I mean, ostensibly, it looks like the people have risen up to demand their freedom, like when the Berlin Wall fell, or when protesters faced off against tanks in Tienanmen Square, or like the great Civil Rights era march on Washington here in the US. It's hard for me, as a rebel-rousing freedom-loving American, to not side with the people of Iran as they do their thing in the streets.
I do support the demonstrations. But I'm not really sure if I'm necessarily on the same side as these Iranians. That is, as far as I can tell, these protests are aimed at forcing the Iranian government to follow the laws they're supposed to execute. In other words, it seems to me that, in the face of what appears to be a massively rigged election, the people of Iran are are protesting in favor of the theocratic governmental system they've had since the revolution of 1979, the one their leaders no longer seem interested maintaining.
I think Americans see the turmoil in the streets of Tehran and can't help but understand it in terms of our own revolutionary history. We see Thomas Paine and Patrick Henry; we see love for Western democracy and Western freedom because this is what it looks like to us. But Persians aren't from the West. There was no Enlightenment in the Middle East. There is no democratic tradition in Iran in the way we understand it. These people want democracy, yes, but how many of them understand the concept in terms of the severely limited sense of democracy afforded them by their ayatollahs? My guess is that this is what the majority of these demonstrators want. That is, they want a restoration of the status quo, a restoration of Muslim Shia theocracy as they've understood it for forty years.
Do we really want to support that? President Obama is right to be cautious.
Tehran, from Twitter, courtesy of the Daily Kos.
Posted by Ron at 10:10 PM
Saturday, June 20, 2009
Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day, commemorates the announcement of the abolition of slavery in the U.S. State of Texas in 1865. Celebrated on June 19, the term is a portmanteau of June and nineteenth, and is recognized as a state holiday in 31 of the United States.
Juneteenth was yesterday, but as far as I can tell most of the celebrations across the country are taking place today, so happy Juneteenth. Being from Texas, I've known about this ostensibly African-American holiday most of my life, but more recently I've started wondering why white Americans don't celebrate the holiday as well. I mean, as I've asserted here before, we're all in agreement that slavery was an awful, horrible, dehumanizing institution that stands as a bloody stain on the reputation of the United States, aren't we? Aren't we also in agreement that getting rid of slavery was an historic watershed for our nation, making us all live up to our stated democratic values a bit better? That ending slavery made us a much more civilized people, a better country?
Why the fuck aren't white people raising beverage-filled glasses toasting this radical step in our continuing evolution towards freedom and democracy? I mean, ending slavery was at least as big of a step for America as establishing our democratic republic was. This is a big fucking deal. So why all the white silence? At least the Senate finally got around to issuing an apology for slavery, albeit an apology with anti-reparation strings attached.
I guess that's a start.
Posted by Ron at 6:57 PM
Friday, June 19, 2009
Thursday, June 18, 2009
FROM THE REAL ART SPORTS DESK
Texas holds on to defeat Louisiana in Bayou Bowl
From the Houston Chronicle:
Defense dominated and the offense built Texas’ biggest lead in a Bayou Bowl en route to a 17-14 victory in the annual showdown with Louisiana’s all-stars Saturday night at Stallworth Stadium.
It was Texas’ fourth win in the 7-year-old series.
Harwell, from Elkins, had four catches in the first half, including a 28-yard TD from Cypress Creek’s Pugliese.
Harwell finished with Bayou Bowl records for receptions (eight) and yards (82).
Heh. They played it out in Baytown, where I sat on the field with the rest of the faculty through several excruciating graduation ceremonies back in the day.
Anyway, I had no idea this game even existed, but since moving to Louisiana, I'm glad it does. That is, in the five years I've been in the land of swamps and crawfish, I've learned that people here are arguably more crazed about high school football than people in my home state. I mean, Louisiana is smaller than Texas, which is probably why there's only one big time college football program, LSU's in Baton Rouge, but trust me, smaller doesn't mean less devoted.
That's why it's only natural to pit the best Texas has to offer on the gridiron against its nextdoor neighbor. Sounds like it was a damned good game. Of course, I'm glad that Texas won--indeed, whenever Texas faces Louisiana in football, I must necessarily always root for Texas, and be happy when Texas wins. But that doesn't mean I don't like Louisiana football.
You know, there's a high school behind the apartments where I live in Metairie: I really ought to go see them play this fall. It'll probably be as fun as watching high school football in Texas. Probably.
Texas lineman Austin Riley (71) of Baytown Lee hoists the
championship trophy as players celebrate following a 17-14
Texas victory in the Bayou Bowl Texas-Louisiana All-Star
Football Game at Stallworth Stadium on Saturday.
Photo by Smiley N. Pool for the Chronicle.
Posted by Ron at 10:38 PM
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
CONSCIENCE OF THE KING
"The Conscience of the King" is an episode of Star Trek: The Original Series. It is episode #13, production #13, and aired on December 8, 1966. It was written by Barry Trivers and directed by Gerd Oswald.
The episode takes its title from the concluding lines of Act II of Hamlet: "The play's the thing/Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king."
Overview: Captain Kirk crosses paths with an actor suspected of having been a murderous dictator many years before.
I like this episode a whole lot more than I probably ought to.
After all, it's pretty clunky and over the top--it's got Kirk's first Enterprise love affair, which, like most of his other Enterprise love affairs, is utterly unbelievable. Lots of stuff that would make me cringe during any other episode. Lots of back story holes that you could drive a truck through. A guest actress who couldn't act her way out of a paper bag.
Yeah, I ought to hate this one. But it's the Shakespeare episode.
That's right, the Shakespeare episode. And, you know, I'm an actor and all, so...did you know that William Shatner cut his teeth doing Shakespeare on stage in Canada? That's one of the main reasons he was hired to play Kirk: Roddenberry wanted a larger-than-life individual to sit in the captain's chair, and Shatner was that in spades. So "Conscience of the King" all comes together for me in very weird ways. I mean, the scene where Kirk confronts Karidian in his quarters is stiff and wooden, as far as acting on screen goes, but so formalistic and rhetorical, something of a duel between old school North American Shakespearean actors, that I just fucking love it. I love the sense of tragedy, the great man who falls because of his own hubris. I love the semi-poetic dialogue. I love the heightened emotions, the desperation. And it's all in space!
And it's also got Reilly's second and final appearance, which is worth noting whether you like the episode or not. They really should have given that guy a permanent job. And like his last appearance, "The Naked Time," Uhura sings. And there's a phaser set on overload, which is always cool.
I mean, you may hate this one. But I always seem to keep coming back to it. Check it out:
Posted by Ron at 11:08 PM
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Gregg Co. boy fatally mauled by pit bulls
From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:
KILGORE — A 10-year-old boy died Monday after authorities say he was mauled by two pit bulls in the small community of Leverett’s Chapel.
Gregg County Justice of the Peace B.H. Jameson pronounced Justin Clinton dead at a Longview hospital. Justin’s body was sent to Dallas for an autopsy.
The Rusk County Sheriff’s Office said witnesses reported seeing the dogs drag the boy, who had been playing at a friend’s house, down the side of the road. Tyler television station KLTV reported that a motorist who saw the attack pulled the animals off the boy.
Okay, so I know that a lot of people assert that pit bulls are just fine and that it's bad owners who either abuse these animals or straight-up train their dogs to be vicious that make these attacks likely. Not having read much about pit bulls, I suppose this assertion is entirely possible. But you have to admit that these attacks happen seemingly all the fucking time. And it's never labs, or chihuahuas or beagles or dalmatians. It's always pit bulls. Is the media biased somehow against these dogs, giving their attacks more attention than they might actually deserve, or are we actually in the midst of a twenty year long rash of random and brutal pit bull attacks? The latter seems more likely. But I don't really know.
It seems entirely reasonable to ask what the fuck is going on here.
Posted by Ron at 10:51 PM
Monday, June 15, 2009
Hey Kids, Have Lots of Sex -- It's What Your Parents Did at Your Age
Yesterday, NPR sounded the alarm that "hooking up" is replacing "dating" for college students and twentysomethings and that this is very bad.
What is this "dating culture" of which they speak, that some long for, even in college? We didn't have it in the '70s, not really. Yo, NPR, I was there.
Then, as now, college was an environment where you were surrounded by peers, single, all coming of age, reaching or reaching for adulthood, exploring their sexuality.
Kids today -- meaning precocious high-schoolers, college students and twentysomethings -- hang out, go to dance parties, clubs and bars … drink, dance, try to meet people to whom they're sexually interested, and hook up, which might include fucking.
We -- meaning old people who went to high school and college in the 1970s -- hung out, went to mixers, clubs and bars … drank, tried to meet people to whom we were sexually attracted in order to make out, and sometimes fuck.
Back in '97 when I was getting certified to teach, I took part in one of many class discussions about about teens and sexuality: one of my classmates, a fortysomething woman, asserted that teenagers "have no business having sex." I was so shocked by this Puritanical attitude, and the chorus of agreement it received, that I found myself in a state that is usually rare for me, speechlessness. What the fuck does that mean, teenagers "have no business having sex"? I mean, for chrissakes, nature has designed human bodies such that teens are all about having sex!!!! Hormones and sex drives are at their peak during teenage years. To assert that teens "have no business having sex" is the height of absurdity.
It's probably just as well that I kept my mouth shut. Arguing with absurdity is automatically a losing proposition. Perhaps I should have tried belittling this point of view, arrogantly dismissing such country-fuck "arguments" as fucking stupid. After all, these anti-sex types usually respond well to harsh authority.
Anyway, the point is that thirty years after the sexual revolution, many Americans continue to be scared as hell of sex, and many of those sex-cowards occupy positions of influence--teachers, journalists, politicians, and of course, clergy continue to preach their sex-the-bad-monster messages even though they obviously have no fucking idea what they're talking about. This cultural oddity, the notion that sex is somehow unsavory and bad, is clearly the drive behind widespread "abstinence based" sex education programs, which downplay safe sex attitudes while pushing Puritanism, which results in unwanted pregnancy and STD transmission.
Meanwhile, Americans do what human beings have always done. They "hook up." Personally, I only see two detrimental ramifications here, and they have far more to do with the cultural landscape in which people have sex than with the sex itself. First, as mentioned above, young people having sex without good sex education are waaaay more likely to engage in risky behavior. Second, the capitalist media exploitation of sexuality tends to make youths more likely to value themselves in terms of their sexuality disproportionate to other important personal attributes, that is, boys who sport-fuck, and girls who chronically slut themselves out, which are psychologically harmful if understood as the sole source of self-esteem.
But this is about a sexually sick culture, not about sex being sick. Really, when establishment figures lament all the sex kids are having, they're talking about how fucked up the establishment is, and using the young as easy scapegoats. The real challenge for teens and twentysomethings today is figuring out how to navigate a sensible course between our malevolent bipolar cultural extremes on sexuality, Puritanism and exploitation, rather than avoiding casual sex.
In short, sex is fucking great. It is deeply embedded in our very identities as human beings. Everybody should have sex, even young people. Just be smart about it. And that's something that the schools could really help kids do. If only we had the social will.
Posted by Ron at 11:49 PM
Sunday, June 14, 2009
HOW THE "SCIENCE" OF ECONOMICS IS FLAWED
From NPR's All Things Considered:
Using Psychology To Save You From Yourself
The three of them spent a year walking the hills of Stanford. Kahneman and Tversky taught Thaler about psychology; Thaler, in turn, taught Kahneman and Tversky about economics.
In the early '80s, they began to publish their ideas — an integration of psychological research and economics with this new flawed decision-maker at the center. But initially, mainstream economists largely rejected the work.
The main point of contention, says Thaler, was the suggestion that humans are less than perfectly rational when it comes to decision-making. For the majority of the 20th century, and for the most part even today, the human beings imagined by economists and placed at the center of their economic models have had a Spock-like rationality.
"Economists literally assume that the agents in the economy are as smart as the smartest economist," Thaler says. "And not just smart: We're not overweight; we never overdrink; and we save just enough for retirement. But, of course, the people we know aren't like that."
So why would economists assume that human beings are so hyper-rational?
Because using a rational human in their mathematical models works. For decades, economists have been using idealized humans to predict everything from international trade to market prices, and they've done pretty well. They've been able to figure out all kinds of things. Also, it's hard to include more realistic human behavior in an economic model.
Click here to listen to or read the rest.
Okay, so I wrote at length some years ago about the rampant flaws in reasoning and weird biases inherent to the "science" of economics, but here's the short version. While economics, as a field of study, has great value, there are some severe problems with the way economists work that become even bigger problems when laymen such as politicians and talking heads use their limited understanding of economics while implementing or discussing policy. That is, economics is popularly understood to be a "science," which is necessarily factually based, and carries the cultural weight that the real sciences do.
This is a big problem because economics is only "science" in the way that archaeology or psychology are sciences: the field uses an approach that could be deemed scientific, but actual scientists start with actual data, while economists use both data and assumptions. And many of those assumptions are just flat out wrong, which taints pretty much all conclusions based on them.
One of those faulty assumptions is that there is such a thing as a "free market." Without the government, there can be no market, but with the government, there can be no "free" market. Because the government must necessarily create the circumstances by which markets can exist, the government must always be intertwined with markets. You just can't get rid of it. The government is always going to be there because it's an integral part of the market.
This means that all economic pontificating about the wonders of the market are flawed at best, and plain wrong at worst. No argument can stand on an imaginary foundation.
Another faulty assumption tainting economic philosophy, which is probably a better word here than "science," is the concept of the rational consumer, which the above linked story goes into great detail refuting. But you don't even really need NPR to show you the obvious: if consumers were rational people, why does the advertising industry spend hundreds of billions of dollars yearly to get consumers to make choices based on images, music, personal association with celebrities, and being cool? That's right. Consumers are utterly irrational. And it's been staring us in the face all our lives.
Anyway, the point here is that the US power establishment makes countless economic policy decisions based on what they believe to be scientific truth. Economics, however, is not scientific truth; much of it is philosophy, sometimes good philosophy, sometimes bad, but philosophy nonetheless. That is, if one dares to challenge widespread conventional economic orthodoxy, one is not insisting that the Earth is flat.
We, as a society, have a lot of rethinking to do.
Posted by Ron at 11:57 PM
Saturday, June 13, 2009
Ex-Miss Calif. says gay comment is why she lost her crown
From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:
Prejean told Matt Lauer on NBC’S Today show Friday that she “absolutely” had been dethroned because of the comment, when she said marriage should be between a man and a woman.
Prejean lost her title Wednesday after the California pageant’s executive director said Prejean was skipping Miss California USA events while speaking out against gay marriage at unsanctioned appearances.
A bit more here.
I've avoided posting on this story because it was beginning to look like nothing was going to come of it. I mean, you know, minor celebrity says something people don't like, people bitch about it and try to get her fired, yadda yadda, and it all dies down. But that's apparently not what happened.
So once again I find myself compelled to defend a conservative idiot.
I've got to agree with the former Miss California on this one: she lost her crown because she is opposed to gay marriage and was willing to go on the record saying so. I mean, okay, the technical reason for her dethroning has something to do with a dispute about how she was performing her "duties" as Queen of California, but it is impossible not to suspect that this would have all been negotiated away somehow if not for her infamous "opposite marriage" statement at the pageant. Kind of like the whole Ward Churchill controversy--they nailed him on trumped up plagiarism charges, which were ultimately nullified in court, but what they were really trying to get him on was his controversial essay about 9/11.
In short, pageant officials in California, who were straight-up telling her "ixnay on the odgay stuff," decided that the only way they could get rid of what they deemed embarrassing behavior was to nail her on whatever they could dig up. First it was the extraordinarily tame nudie pics, which pageant owner Donald Trump declared to be within the rules, followed by this "duties" business. And they got her. But it's pretty obvious that the motivation behind it all was shutting her up.
Of course, I don't know all the rules for the Miss California Pageant, but it seems to me that contestants don't have to check their political views at the theater door--otherwise, they'd have dismissed her immediately. And if political speech is against the rules, well, that would be pretty fucked up. Needless to say, America necessarily must thrive on political speech, everybody's political speech: democracy doesn't work without it, even if much of that political speech is bullshit.
Okay, I can imagine some speech moving into hateful rhetoric, like Imus' "nappy headed ho's" comment, but simple opposition to gay marriage doesn't come anywhere near that. I mean, you know, Prejean is wrong and everything, and weirdly hypocritical, given her religious views juxtaposed against all her cheescake work, but nothing she's said, that I know of, actually falls to the level of what we would call "hate speech."
Really, the whole damned controversy is downright bizarre, and is yet another revelation of totalitarian strains on the left. So she's opposed to gay marriage. Big fuck. Lots of people are. Why must she be punished and purged? The girl's entitled to her opinion. Persuade her to change her mind; don't fuck her over. It's lame when conservatives do it, but worse when the left does it--the left should know better.
Ugh. It always leaves a bad taste in my mouth defending conservatives like this.
Carrie Prejean, some hot Christian action I could really get into!
Posted by Ron at 10:51 PM
Friday, June 12, 2009
Thursday, June 11, 2009
DOMESTIC RIGHT-WING TERRORISM IS REAL
From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:
Guard killed at Holocaust Museum
An 88-year-old gunman with a violent and virulently anti-Semitic past opened fire with a rifle inside the crowded U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum on Wednesday, fatally wounding a security guard before being shot himself by other officers, authorities said.
The assailant was hospitalized in critical condition, leaving behind a sprawling investigation by federal and local law enforcement and expressions of shock from the Israeli government and a prominent Muslim organization.
Von Brunn has a racist, anti-Semitic Web site and wrote a book titled "Kill the Best Gentiles," alleging a Jewish conspiracy "to destroy the white gene pool." Writings attributed to von Brunn on the Internet say the Holocaust was a hoax. "At Auschwitz the 'Holocaust' myth became Reality, and Germany, cultural gem of the West, became a pariah among world nations," one says.
In 1983, he was convicted of attempting to kidnap members of the Federal Reserve Board and served more than six years in prison. He was arrested two years earlier outside the room where the board was meeting, carrying a revolver, knife and sawed-off shotgun. At the time, police said von Brunn wanted to take the members hostage because of high interest rates and the nation's economic difficulties.
Less than two weeks ago, a right-wing anti-abortion terrorist assassinated an abortion provider. A few months back another right-wing terrorist opened fire in a Unitarian church because he wanted to kill liberals. Yesterday, a right-wing white-supremacist neo-Nazi terrorist opened fire at the Holocaust Museum, killing a guard. All Americans, all conservatives. All willing to kill their fellow countrymen to further their conservative political views. And that's terrorism.
Are the right-wingers who freaked out over DHS's warning a couple of months ago about dangerous "right-wing extremism" going to apologize now? Probably not, which is just so fucking typical.
But really. This is starting to be a big fucking problem, and I think it's only going to get worse.
Posted by Ron at 10:41 PM
"Miri" is a first season episode of Star Trek: The Original Series, that was first broadcast October 27, 1966, and repeated June 29, 1967. It is episode #8, production #12, written by Adrian Spies and directed by Vincent McEveety. The planetary exteriors were shot on the set used for fellow Desilu series The Andy Griffith Show.
Overview: The Enterprise discovers an exact duplicate of Earth, where the only survivors of a deadly plague are some of the planet's children.
I hate this episode. Seriously. I mean yeah, I'm a total Star Trek nut and all, but I really fucking despise "Miri." This is significant. There is only one other Trek episode I hate, the third season vomit bucket called "And the Children Shall Lead." Can you see any connection? Yeah, that's right: it's the children.
Generally, I like kids just fine. Hell, I even taught high school for six years, and I loved my kids. Most of them anyway. Rather, the problem I have is with child actors. Not my child actors, mind you, the freshmen and sophomores I taught back in the day, many of whom I managed to coach into some good acting work for the stage. The child actors I hate are on screen.
Look, it's not really their fault. Acting is damned difficult. You've really got to understand yourself and human relationships, and that's something children are simply not emotionally or psychologically developed enough to do. I mean, acting is hard enough for adults, but virtually all children are in waaaay over their heads when it comes to realistic drama. Add to that the way that Hollywood writers tend to pander, shamelessly playing toward adults' base nurturing instincts in vile ways, mythologizing childhood in a filthy slimy "Kum Bah Ya" meets "Pass It On" way.
This is why Wesley Crusher is a cancerous sore on Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Anyway, "Miri" does have a few notables. Like the Wikipedia article mentions, they shot it on the Mayberry set. It's the first "parallel Earth" episode, which, in spite of the failure of "Miri," ended up being a pretty cool story formula for Trek--Nazis and mobsters and gladiators are coming in the second season! And we get to see for the first time McCoy racing against time to cure a disease and save the day.
None of this, of course, saves "Miri." It's just awful. You really ought not watch it.
Posted by Ron at 12:10 AM
Tuesday, June 09, 2009
Businessman gets New Orleans City Council
to designate CBD as the 'American Sector'
From the New Orleans Times-Picayune:
For most of the past decade, Arne Hook has been a man with a mission -- a curious and even quixotic mission, many might have thought, but one that last week won the blessing of the New Orleans City Council.
Hook's goal has been to get New Orleanians to start using the label "American Sector" for the part of town often known as Downtown, the Central Business District or the Downtown Development District.
The part of the city upriver from Canal Street was widely known by that name in the first half of the 19th century. As the city expanded after the Louisiana Territory became part of the United States in 1803, most of the newly arrived Americans settled in new neighborhoods upriver from the French and Creole sections below Canal.
However, the name dropped out of use even as the section of the city just across Canal gained international fame as the French Quarter.
If you don't really know New Orleans, you may have no idea why this has any significance.
Here's my take. What I love about the Crescent City is its remarkably unique culture, which is a direct reflection of its odd and singular history. Outsiders know it was founded by the French and continues to have strains of that nation's culture to this very day, but it is not popularly understood that New Orleans has always been, and continues to be, what Ken Burns called in his PBS documentary Jazz, a veritable gumbo of cultural influences. It isn't just the French: Native Americans, Africans, Spaniards, and of course, Americans from the Eastern seaboard have all made enormous impacts on how the people of NOLA think and live their lives.
And the arrival of the Americans here had at least as big of an impact on the region as did the French. Indeed, the cultural tensions between the newly arrived Americans and the long settled Creoles lasted for decades--French was still spoken frequently here, alongside English, into the first decades of the twentieth century. Ultimately, however, the two cultures, all contributing cultures, fused into what we now know as the Big Easy's way of life.
So I like this tip of the hat to the ongoing cultural evolution of New Orleans. I mean, as the article explains, there are some here who have big problems with renaming the downtown area, and their objections are reasonable, but history is literally what this city's about. And getting closer to NOLA's history can, in the long run, only be a good thing.
Who knows? The crescent shaped area between the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain has been since Katrina receiving great masses of immigrants from Mexico, Honduras, and other Central American nations. Maybe in fifty years or so, we'll see the recognition or founding of a new Hispanic Quarter somewhere in the area. That'd be cool too.
As local son and jazz trumpeter extraordinaire Wynton Marsalis once said, "In New Orleans we do history."
Posted by Ron at 10:27 PM
Monday, June 08, 2009
THE STAR TREK CALENDAR PICTURE OF THE MONTH IS...
...Mr. Scott, Mr. Spock, Captain Kirk, Dr. McCoy, Lieutenant Uhura, and Mr. Chekov!
But where the hell's Sulu? Probably has the con. I'm too tired to check it out: the pic is from the episode "I, Mudd;" go watch it if you want.
Posted by Ron at 11:18 PM
Sunday, June 07, 2009
Was Ronald Reagan an Even Worse President Than George W. Bush?
From Consortium News via AlterNet:
Granted, the very idea of rating Reagan as one of the worst presidents ever will infuriate his many right-wing acolytes and offend Washington insiders who have made a cottage industry out of buying some protection from Republicans by lauding the 40th President.
But there's a growing realization that the starting point for many of the catastrophes confronting the United States today can be traced to Reagan's presidency. There's also a grudging reassessment that the "failed" presidents of the 1970s – Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter – may deserve more credit for trying to grapple with the problems that now beset the country.
Nixon, Ford and Carter won scant praise for addressing the systemic challenges of America's oil dependence, environmental degradation, the arms race, and nuclear proliferation – all issues that Reagan essentially ignored and that now threaten America's future.
With his superficially sunny disposition – and a ruthless political strategy of exploiting white-male resentments – Reagan convinced millions of Americans that the threats they faced were: African-American welfare queens, Central American leftists, a rapidly expanding Evil Empire based in Moscow, and the do-good federal government.
In his First Inaugural Address in 1981, Reagan declared that "government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem."
The essay goes on to offer an ambiguous answer to the question its title asks: Bush was an awful president, but Reagan laid the philosophical groundwork, if such ideas actually rise to the level of "philosophical," for our recent chief executive's most spectacular failures.
But here's my answer. Bush was indeed worse than Reagan. After all, for the most part, Reagan had a Democratic Congress, as well as much more liberal attitudes among voters at the time, to rein him in. That is, Reagan's actions didn't quite match up to his rhetoric in the way that Bush's did--indeed, Reagan, "the great tax cutter," was also the great tax raiser; when it became apparent how much damage his early cuts would do to both the government and the economy, the Gipper flip-flopped, and restored taxes to essentially the same rates they were before he was elected. He also had a more competent administration around him, Republicans who hadn't completely embraced the message that government was to be dismantled, rather than run efficiently. President Bush, on the other hand, seems to have believed the bullshit, and governed accordingly.
When your central philosophy of governance is shit, that's how you're going to govern, and Bush was no exception to such an obvious truism.
But that doesn't get Reagan off the hook. As the essay asserts, it all started with him. Well, to be fair, you see the Conservative Movement's roots going all the way back to Goldwater's presidential run in 1964, or William F. Buckley's founding of The National Review back in the late 50s, or the horror experienced by fundamentalist Christians at the sexual excesses of the 1960s, or by those same religious nuts reacting to Roe versus Wade, or by Milton Friedman's supply side psycho-economics taught at the University of Chicago in the 1970s. But it all came together with Reagan. He was the guy who united free market fundamentalists, Christian fundamentalists, anti-drug law-and-order Nazis, and anti-communist hawks under one umbrella. He was the one who gave it all a friendly, smiling, movie star handsome face. You can't possibly have George W. Bush if you don't have Reagan first.
But then, I'm also very much of the opinion that pretty much anybody could have done it, if Reagan hadn't. It was simply a matter of time. The conservatives were working their asses off to overthrow the center-left coalition that had ruled the nation since the Great Depression, and they would have found somebody to embody their values. Maybe Charlton Heston, maybe somebody else. Really, it could have been anybody, as long as he talked good.
Because there's one other precedent Reagan set for Bush to follow: actor-as-president. We were lucky during the Reagan era. The whole shit house did not cave in the way it has recently. But as long as the GOP found it a desirable strategy to run what has amounted to a couple of figure heads for the Oval Office, governmental self-destruction has been inevitable. A robot man is quite simply a bad choice for a leadership position.
Posted by Ron at 10:49 PM
Saturday, June 06, 2009
Texas poet laureate returns to first love: writing poetry
From the Houston Chronicle:
So Ruffin, a professor at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville and editor of the Texas Review, has returned to the form where he first found success.
And if at first it was simply pragmatic — what writer would say no to the offer of a new book? — he has taken fresh pleasure from a field often criticized as unwelcoming to the casual reader.
“Contemporary poets got so obscure that poetry kind of fell out of favor,” Ruffin said.
No worries about that with these new poems, taken from themes he had written about in a weekly column for the Huntsville Item: A consideration of Amelia Earhart’s final flight, or the fictional saga of a 3,000-year-old Egyptian mummy impregnated by a security guard. Another offers instructions for eating chicken backs.
None of which is to say that Ruffin takes poetry lightly.
“I always want my poems to be understood by a general audience, and then I want there to be more there.”
Ruffin himself is equally multilayered, an educator who belongs to the National Rifle Association and feels at home whether running a literary journal or tangling with balky plumbing.
“It’s a rare thing for a college professor, and especially an English professor, to be a conservative and a member of the NRA, or to be able to change the oil in their own car,” he said. “I’m a Renaissance man.”
Okay, I have no idea who this guy is. I've never read any of his poetry. For that matter, I'm not much of a fan of poetry, generally. But I really, really, really like his attitude about poetry, which I extend to all the arts.
Throughout the history of Western civilization, artists have always occupied a social space somewhere outside the mainstream, being in essence, as they are, commentators on the societies in which they live. But at some point in the nineteenth century, artists, no doubt spurred on by the Romantics, greatly upped the ante on this sense of social exceptionalism. That is, artists began to believe that they were more enlightened than, more emotionally sensitive than, in many ways simply better than the great mass of regular ordinary people who do not have the scholastic background to fully appreciate their art, which by the early twentieth century was becoming increasingly weird and off-putting to those who are not in the club. In short, serious artistes of all varieties have become elitist snobs who are far more concerned about the reactions of club members, which include other artists, critics, and effete dillitantes, than the reactions of plain folk.
It took decades, but the net result has been to render serious art meaningless to the lives of most human beings in the West, especially in America, where its citizens, by their very nature, tend to distrust and disdain elitist snobs. This both infuriates and saddens me. I'm infuriated that this elitist art culture persists in the face of its own social irrelevancy. I'm saddened because art is one of the most marvelous innovations in the history of humanity, and most of my countrymen couldn't care less about it, and really, I don't blame them, given the negative attitude thrust on them by so many artists.
But it doesn't have to be this way.
Serious artists, if they give a shit at all about the relevancy of their work, ought to shun the serious art institutions, serious art social circles, and elitist serious art attitudes that have placed a massive cultural barrier between their work and the people. Indeed, artists would well serve themselves by coming out of their ivory towers, Soho studios, Lincoln Centers, and cocktail party/art openings at expensive galleries to mingle with their "inferiors." They might learn a bit more about what it means to be a human being at the dawn of the twenty first century.
This guy, Texas Poet Laureate Paul Ruffin, appears to have lived his entire life this way, making himself a role model for what relevant art ought to look like. Maybe I should buy his new book.
Posted by Ron at 10:22 PM
Friday, June 05, 2009
Thursday, June 04, 2009
Student caps speech with pot smoke
From the News Tribune via the Houston Chronicle:
TACOMA, Wash. — The teachers wanted persuasive.
And they got it.
At the end of his speech Tuesday urging legalization of marijuana, a 17-year-old Peninsula High School student pulled out a joint, lit it and smoked away. Then he ate the remains.
For that he got a quick escort to the school office and then a ride to Remann Hall juvenile jail.
The stunt was celebrated among some of the teen’s peers but was frowned on to say the least by law enforcement officers and district administrators.
“We believe in freedom of speech and encourage it, but illegal activities are absolutely not going to be tolerated in our district,” schools Superintendent Terry Bouck said.
Pierce County sheriff’s spokesman Ed Troyer said, “If people want that law changed, they need to go about it the right way.”
He did acknowledge, though, that the student’s action will prompt discussion.
“It sure will probably bring a lot of attention to the issue,” Troyer said.
Wow, man, talk about balls.
Gotta hand it to this kid. In addition to performing a very nicely executed high school stunt that his classmates will be reminiscing about for decades to come, Teen Pot Smoker single-handedly managed to get his issue into the national news. I mean okay, legalization has been around the corporate news media's fringes for the last few weeks or so, anyway, but still, this is a good piece of agit-prop, worthy of activists much more experienced.
Here's an interesting regional difference within the authoritarian indoctrination institution known as "public school." If this had taken place at the high school where I used to teach in Baytown, Texas, Teen Pot Smoker's action would have been thoroughly criticized by everybody. There would have been no lip service paid to the notion of freedom of speech, no acknowledgement that his act of civil disobedience would be effective in promoting thought and discussion. No relevance to this student's 3.7 g.p.a., which is mentioned later in the article, although, to be fair, making a 3.7 in high school isn't like rocket science or anything. But I guess that's the difference between far-right conservative Texas and relatively liberal Washington: both states' educational apparatuses are about authority and obedience, but the way this mandate is administered reflects the respective social outlooks of the two regions--Texas is harsh; Washington is kinder and gentler. I mean, the kid gets busted and condemned in either state, but the so-called "Blue State" response is more nuanced and subtler.
At any rate, every now and then, actual learning accidentally takes place in the public schools, in spite of the imposed ignorance mission pursued by all these institutions. It is interesting to note that this particular lesson was taught by a student, rather than by the propagandists/indoctrinators also known as "teachers."
Posted by Ron at 9:17 PM