1,000 Troops For Every al Qaeda Operative in Afghanistan
From Think Progress via AlterNet:
The U.S. has committed nearly 100,000 troops to the mission in Afghanistan. ABC This Week host Jake Tapper asked CIA Director Leon Panetta how big is the al Qaeda threat that the soldiers are combating:
TAPPER: How many Al Qaeda, do you think, are in Afghanistan?The 100,000 U.S. forces that have been tasked to dismantle the 100 or so al Qaeda members — a ratio of 1000:1 — is complicated by the fact that we are also engaged in operations going after the Taliban leadership.
PANETTA: I think the estimate on the number of Al Qaeda is actually relatively small. I think at most, we’re looking at 50 to 100, maybe less. It’s in that vicinity. There’s no question that the main location of Al Qaeda is in the tribal areas of Pakistan.
The reality is that Al Qaeda is now in Pakistan, which we will most definitely not invade because they have nuclear weapons--the "50 to 100" Al Qaeda operatives still in Afghanistan are very likely stragglers, or lost, or trying to get to Pakistan, certainly not an organized force for mayhem and anarchy, and therefore not really worth all the trouble. That leaves the Taliban as enemy in Afghanistan, the people who controlled the country before we got there. In other words, we're fighting yet another home grown insurgency. Kind of like we were doing in Vietnam. And Iraq. And we're doing this in order to keep Al Qaeda from coming back. But why would they come back when they appear to be able to thumb their noses at the US from over the border?
So we're fighting an indigenous insurgency so as to create a modern nation state where there has never before been one to keep out an enemy who most likely doesn't want to go there. Needless to say, this makes absolutely no sense. Does the Obama administration really believe this bullshit?
Conservatives are saying that the BP oil spill will destroy the Obama administration. I'm starting to think our President's Waterloo lies in Afghanistan, rather than the Gulf of Mexico. Remember how successful LBJ was at home? The Civil Rights Act, Medicare, Medicaid, "The War on Poverty," he got shit done. But Vietnam rendered it all meaningless by the time the primaries rolled around in 1968.
I guess we'll see where this all leads.
Wednesday, June 30, 2010
1,000 Troops For Every al Qaeda Operative in Afghanistan
Posted by Ron at 12:24 AM
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
The two poles of journalism
From Glenn Greenwald's blog:
With his Rolling Stone article on Gen. McChrystal, Michael Hastings has become both the personification of, and spokesperson for, Real Journalism, and as a result, has provoked intense animosity from establishment-serving "reporters" everywhere. He apparently committed the gravest sin: he exposed and embarrassed rather than flattered and protected a powerful government official, and in our upside-down media culture, doing that is a sign of irresponsibility rather than fulfillment of the basic journalistic function.
If you engage in discussions on whether the corporate media are liberal or conservative, you're kind of not getting the point. I mean, okay, I engage in such discussion, but it's usually in order to get my point across: the corporate news media serve power, which necessarily means a pro-establishment bias, which is, by its very nature, a conservative bias. Of course, my understanding of the word "conservative," in this sense, includes a lot of people who think of themselves as "liberal"--indeed, the far left generally understands American liberals as apologists for the establishment, people who defend the overall power structure as basically sound, but needing a few tweaks; really, conservatives couldn't exist without this kind of liberal, who makes the right wing appear to be a lot less crazy than it actually is.
That is, the whole liberal/conservative construction of news media ideology is more about partisanship than it is about actual ideas: who's being treated better, the (corporate) Democrats or the (corporate) Republicans?
Anyway, given this establishment-protection role the corporate news media play, it is no surprise at all that media figures have come out swinging against a real reporter who, unlike his most of his journalistic comrades, actually did his job. That is, if the news media really is the so-called "Fourth Estate," then it ought to be playing watchdog over the activities of our society's institutions of power. That's what this guy did with his Rolling Stone piece on McChrystal. That other reporters are condemning Hastings, rather than nominating him for awards, buying him beers, and patting him on the back, tells us a great deal about the press in this country.
That is, they're a bunch of idiot-stooges who should be spat upon by every American citizen who takes this country seriously.
Posted by Ron at 1:57 AM
Monday, June 28, 2010
The Third Depression
From the New York Times, Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman opines on the self-destructive attitudes of right-wing economic orthodoxy:
We are now, I fear, in the early stages of a third depression. It will probably look more like the Long Depression than the much more severe Great Depression. But the cost — to the world economy and, above all, to the millions of lives blighted by the absence of jobs — will nonetheless be immense.
And this third depression will be primarily a failure of policy. Around the world — most recently at last weekend’s deeply discouraging G-20 meeting — governments are obsessing about inflation when the real threat is deflation, preaching the need for belt-tightening when the real problem is inadequate spending.
So I don’t think this is really about Greece, or indeed about any realistic appreciation of the tradeoffs between deficits and jobs. It is, instead, the victory of an orthodoxy that has little to do with rational analysis, whose main tenet is that imposing suffering on other people is how you show leadership in tough times.
I've already started telling anyone in casual conversation who is willing to listen that we're in for about a decade or so of a sluggish economy with very little growth and high unemployment. I'm also starting to wonder what the investment angle is for someone like me who has a pretty good understanding of how fucked up the macro-economy will be for the next ten years: can I make some money off this?
At any rate, even though I have, at this point, accepted its inevitability, the coming third depression is very disturbing, and by "coming," I mean "already here."
That is, as Krugman has been observing relentlessly for months now, it just doesn't have to be this way. The austerity people, who are the majority of politicians and economists worldwide, are afraid of inflation caused by deficit spending. And, to be fair, inflation and deficits are problems, in the abstract. It's just that there isn't any imminent danger from deficit spending, while there is imminent danger from massive spending cuts.
Here's how deficit spending fucks the economy.
There are a finite number of dollars out there. When the government borrows beyond a certain threshold, a certain percentage of the GDP, the massive scale of these loans start to squeeze the overall dollar supply. The government borrows so much money that there is necessarily less available for everybody else, which means businesses can't expand and can't hire more people. So economic growth becomes stagnant. Factor in population growth, which creates more workers needing more jobs, and unemployment becomes a problem.
Now, the government could simply print up more money to deal with how deficit spending squeezes the dollar supply, but when it does so, each dollar, because there are more floating around the overall economy, becomes worth less, which causes inflation, which has its own set of horrific economic problems. So, in the long run, deficits screw the economy by forcing stagnation, or by causing inflation, and both are really bad.
In the short run, of course, deficits do no harm. And in the current economy, deficits are actually quite beneficial, and these benefits go way beyond any sort of compassion oriented arguments.
Have you been reading the headlines about states laying off teachers and shutting schools down because they don't have the money to keep them open? The reason the states don't have any money is because of the recession: people have lost jobs, and business activity is way down. That is, during a recession, tax revenues drop off sharply. Virtually all the states are bound by their constitutions to keep balanced budgets, so they have to cut spending. The Feds, however, have no such constraint. They can borrow not only to keep the government functioning, but also to spread the wealth around, which keeps tax revenues from shrinking further.
Are you following this? Cutting spending right now will necessarily result in a smaller tax base, thereby destabilizing the financial picture for state and federal government alike. In other words, the austerity strategy will do nothing but cause the need for more austerity as government income is dried up by foolhardy austerity measures. The deficit hawks want to make things worse, not better.
None of this even addresses the need to spend a whole shitload more than we're spending now, in order to make up for the fact that nervous consumers aren't spending, which makes nervous businesses avoid expansion. That is, in classic Keynesian form, massive government spending, on a scale that dwarfs what Obama and the Congress have been willing to do thus far, creates an economic environment such that businesses and consumers alike feel much better about parting with their dollars.
Ideally, when the crisis has passed, the government can then cut spending and start to pay off its debt, but with a much better and self-sustaining economy, which results in much higher tax revenues. So the real way out of the Great Recession is to spend like crazy now, which revives the economy, which then pays off, over the long run, the debt incurred today. Conversely, cutting spending right now will do nothing but worsen the situation.
None of the deficit hawks have directly responded to this argument. They just kind of fear monger about how bad it is to run deficits, and then they all nod their heads in agreement, an economist's echo chamber. That's why Krugman says that the call to cut spending has "little to do with rational analysis." It's all based on "DEFICITS BAD!"
I continue to be very frightened that, apparently, I, a guy who waits tables for a living, understand this stuff better than the people who make big bucks to do it.
Posted by Ron at 12:51 AM
Saturday, June 26, 2010
GOD IS AN INHUMAN AND EVIL MONSTER
Or he's omnibenevolent and therefore has very little, if anything, to do with the Christian Bible. If he exists at all, that is.
From AlterNet, an intellectual meditation on the power of prayer:
Why God Doesn’t Listen To Your Prayers
In the debate Wilson is asked by Barker if it is good that God ordered the killing of the Amalekite men, women, children and babies in the Hebrew Bible (1 Sam 15:3 NIV): “Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.” His response is scary, but granted it is consistent with his ethic that everything God does is good:
Barker: You think it was right?Wilson has also tried to be morally consistent in respect to other aspects of the Bible. From “The Controversialist” in Christianity Today:
Wilson: The people of God were blessed by this when they were conquering the enemies of God. And the one who took the children of the enemies of God and bashed them on the rock was blessed by God. That’s in the Bible and I have no apologies for it.
Barker: Do you think that’s good morality? Do you think that’s not a cruel thing to do? Do you think its a good thing to do?
Wilson: God is the definition of good. We begin all our reasoning from this position. We reason from what God says to our morality.
But when I asked what he thought of the death penalty for homosexual acts suggested in Leviticus 20:13, he did not shy away from the theonomic hard line that disturbs many Christians. “You can’t apply Scripture woodenly,” he says. “You might exile some homosexuals, depending on the circumstances and the age of the victim. There are circumstances where I’d be in favor of execution for adultery. … I’m not proposing legislation. All I’m doing is refusing to apologize for certain parts of the Bible.”The same distortion of the word “good” by Wilson is what is required if we are to believe that an interventionist God who answers prayer is good.
The essay writer uses these statements to argue from a believer's point of view that God doesn't answer prayer, which, to me, is self evident.
But the passage excerpted above makes plain a point that long ago helped make me an agnostic: God, if he exists, cannot possibly be the being described in the Bible. If God is all good, the fountainhead of all morality in the universe, which is a fairly commonplace description of the Almighty, then the entity named Yahweh automatically rules himself out. After all, genocide is immoral. This wipes out in one fell swoop three of the world's major religions, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, all grounded in the Old Testament.
Of course, defenders of the Bible assert that if God does something, it is, by definition, absolutely moral. That is, God and morality are the same thing. Never mind for a moment how this reeks of President Nixon's defense of his Watergate crimes - "If the President does it, it's legal." - my take is that if a supernaturally powerful being comes my way and tells me that I should worship him, he should, at least, pass the smell test: powerful entities who tell me that genocide is right and good don't pass the smell test.
That is, Christians have it the wrong way around: you start with morality, and determine whether a given "God" fits that; then you decide to worship him. 'Cause, lemme tell ya, if the Biblical God really is the all powerful owner and operator of the universe, we're all in a heap of trouble, both in this life, and in the next. Torture and justice become the same thing. It doesn't matter what kind of life you lead, how kindly you treat people, how much you've sacrificed for others. All that matters is that you've sworn allegiance to a narcissistic and powerful creature with the temperament of a two year old. It would be like that Twilight Zone episode "It's a Good Life." Horrifying.
Of course, you'd have to be a fucking moron to believe that this is the essential nature of the universe.
Lots of fucking morons out there, I guess.
Posted by Ron at 7:02 PM
Friday, June 25, 2010
"A Piece of the Action"
"A Piece of the Action" is a second-season episode of Star Trek: The Original Series first broadcast on January 12, 1968. It was repeated on August 30, 1968, the last episode to air in the 8:30 pm time slot on Friday nights. It is episode #46, production #49, written by David P. Harmon and Gene L. Coon, and directed by James Komack.
Overview: The Enterprise visits a planet with an Earth-like 1920s gangster culture.
While not as great as last week's "The Immunity Syndrome," "A Piece of the Action" definitely deserves to be recognized as one of the great Star Trek episodes. It's a straight up comedy, and coming some weeks after "I, Mudd" and "The Trouble with Tribbles," both uproariously funny, it is clear that everybody involved with the show had completely perfected their approach to comedic science fiction: this is better, I think, than its two comedy predecessors, funnier and with a tighter narrative--indeed, it's paced like the best dramatic episodes, rampaging forward like a freight train, which is well suited to humor.
What's most amazing about "A Piece of the Action" is that it's all variations on a single joke, the incongruity between two radically different genres, futuristic sci-fi and the old Hollywood gangster flick. I mean, this is the kind of tongue-in-cheek hybrid that Quentin Tarantino and others made a billion dollars with years later. But Star Trek appears to have done it first.
Being a mobster piece, the episode is populated with wise-cracking thugs, dunderheaded tommy gun wielding psychopaths, trashy party girls, and mob molls. I mean, they just pull out every cliche they can think of. But what really makes the whole gangster thing work is using a couple of great character actors to play the rival mob bosses, Anthony Caruso as Bela Oxmyx and Vic Tayback as Jojo Krako. Both actors jump into it head first and never come up for air, creating mobster characters every bit as memorable as Tony Montana, Vito Corleone, and Tommy DeVito. They're that fun.
But they're even more fun when they're visited by Star Fleet.
Kirk and crew come to Sigma Iotia II in search of a ship, the Horizon, which was lost a century earlier, shortly after it visited the planet. Because the Prime Directive did not exist at that point, the Enterprise fully expects to find rampant cultural contamination of the Iotian civilization; they do not expect to find a world that has modeled itself on Chicago Mobs of the Twentieth Century, a book from the early 1990s that the Horizon had left behind. A great deal of the first third or so of the episode's humor comes from various crew members' confusion about the resulting Mafia planet.
Indeed, much of the story's arc is about Kirk's learning curve. At first, he's as befuddled as everybody else, and easily taken advantage of by the local mobsters--again and again, he finds himself held hostage, machine guns at his head. Then he starts to figure it out, escaping captivity by concocting a card game, in the classic and brilliant "Fizzbin" scene, to distract the thugs holding him, Spock, and McCoy on ice. When his science officer declares the overall situation to be totally illogical, Kirk finally has the permission he needs to go native and really get things done.
This one really is laugh-out-loud funny. The whole cast appears to be truly enjoying themselves, which makes watching it all the more fun. Go treat yourself.
Kirk and Spock using their "heaters" to subdue a couple of Krako's henchmen.
Posted by Ron at 1:05 AM
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Short, Tense Deliberation, Then a General Is Gone
From the New York Times:
But this is the highest profile sacking of his presidency. The time between Mr. Obama’s first reading of the Rolling Stone article and his decision to accept General McChrystal’s resignation offers an insight into the president’s decision-making process under intense stress: He appears deliberative and open to debate, but in the end, is coldly decisive.
In a subsequent meeting with his Afghan war council, Mr. Obama delivered a tongue-lashing, instructing his advisers to stop bickering among themselves.
“The president said he didn’t want to see pettiness; that this was not about personalities or reputations — it’s about our men and women in uniform,” said a senior administration official, who like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity in offering an account of the last two days.
Actually, it's about far more than our men and women in uniform. It's about democracy.
This was totally the right call. There is a damned good reason our founding fathers made the commander-in-chief of the US military a civilian: there are too many examples throughout history, right up through today, of various nations' armies deciding that they could do a better job of ruling than their civilian governments--once the military has decided that it wants to run the country, it's over; there's little, if anything, a nation can do to stop it. Our founding fathers' solution to this massive threat to our democracy was to place the President in total charge of the military, and to make all members of the military swear an oath to the Constitution, which mandates their command structure.
Top generals publicly trash-talking their civilian commanders comes way too close to upsetting this already fragile political arrangement. It doesn't matter how good of a warrior McChrystal is. He had to go.
And this is kind of sad. Pretty much everybody says that McChrystal is a great general, a great leader. One of those guys like Patton or MacArthur or Custer or Montgomery, who motivated men with charisma and an intense personal style.
According to Reuters:
(Rolling Stone editor Eric) Bates said he was not surprised McChrystal was so forthcoming and blunt, saying the military leader saw himself as a "terrorist hunter" with "cowboy style."And from Wikipedia
He runs seven to eight miles a day, eats one meal, and sleeps for four hours a night.I even heard on CNN last night that McChrystal often runs around Afghanistan bare chested. I mean, what a hardcore dude. Alas, it appears that the flamboyance that works so well on the battlefield is ill suited for interacting with civilian leadership. That is, McChrystal apparently doesn't know when to shut the fuck up, something his replacement, General Petraeus, knows how to do well. Indeed, this all reveals some of the fragility of the anti-coup system embedded in our Constitution: military thinking must necessarily be black and white, while civilian politics is nothing but shades of grey. Perhaps in a democracy the greatest generals have to be confined to lower rungs of the leadership ladder--what makes them great at war is the same thing that makes them awful with democracy.
Of course, what makes this really sad is that the war in Afghanistan is unwinnable, and, at this point, meaningless, given that Al Qaeda is no longer there, and the "nation" in which we fight hasn't ever really been a nation state in the way we understand the term in the West, and therefore ill suited to becoming one today.
General Stanley McChrystal.
Okay, just kidding. It's actually Robert Duval playing
Lt. Col. Kilgore in Apocalypse Now.
Posted by Ron at 11:39 PM
STAR TREK PROGRAM NOTE
Starting tomorrow night, I'm going to be running Star Trek episodes on Thursday nights, rather than Wednesday nights. It just fits my schedule better lately. It's also appropriate because NBC tended to move Trek's time slot around a bit, something that virtually everybody at this point believes contributed to its pointless demise.
Anyway, see you tomorrow with "A Piece of the Action."
Posted by Ron at 11:36 PM
MICHAEL MCDONALD FEST!!!
Michael McDonald (born February 12, 1952) is a five-time Grammy Award winning American singer and songwriter. Sometimes described as a "blue-eyed soul" singer, McDonald has a distinctive "husky, soulful" baritone voice. He is known for his work as a member of the Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan, and for several hits as a solo artist.
So this guy I know at work has been grooving lately on Michael McDonald's first solo hit, "I Keep Forgetting." He sings it a lot. And that gets me singing, too. Suddenly, I find that I keep remembering how totally omnipresent McDonald was for about a decade or so--he really was part of the soundtrack of my late childhood and early adolescent years. If he were Phil Collins, such remembering might be a bit painful, but he's not, he's fucking Michael McDonald, member of Steely Dan, my favorite band next to the Beatles, who also fronted the band with the greatest name of all time, the Doobie Brothers.
When was the last time you had a serious Michael McDonald fest? If you're like me, it's been at least twenty five years, back when every day was a Michael McDonald fest. Well that's just too damned long.
Let's start off with some Doobies:
But McDonald, an incredible lead singer, was equally adept as a background man, not an easy task for someone with such talent, playing second fiddle to a usually less talented singer.
You know, like Christopher Cross:
Or Kenny Loggins:
And sure, Steely Dan's Donald Fagen is also a less talented singer, but as an arranger/composer, he was probably the best at understanding how to maximize the McDonald effect:
But it wasn't simply his singing: McDonald was, and still is, a brilliant composer. That is, you were listening to Michael McDonald even when you didn't know you were listening to Michael McDonald.
Like with this Carly Simon recording:
Or even this Van Halen song he co-wrote:
Van fucking Halen. I had no idea until I read it on Wikipedia. He really was everywhere.
Anyway, it's been a grand fest, hasn't it? I can't think of any better way of closing it than with the song that got me started:
God, I love Michael McDonald.
Posted by Ron at 12:34 AM
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
THE NUMBERS DON'T LIE
6 Shocking Ways Conservatives Helped
Cause the Economic Destruction of America
It seems that you can look at a chart of almost anything and right around 1981 or soon after you'll see the chart make a sharp change in direction, and probably not in a good way. And I really do mean almost anything, from economics to trade to infrastructure to ... well almost anything. I spent some time looking for charts of things, and here are just a few examples. In each of the charts below look for the year 1981, when Reagan took office.
I spend a great deal of time here trying to debunk a lot of the conventional wisdom on economics. I would say "right-wing economics," or neoliberalism, or Reaganomics, whatever you want to call it, except for the fact that this point of view has come to totally dominate establishment thinking over the last thirty years. So it is now, and has been for some time, conventional wisdom. Almost always, I'm all about point by point explanations of how these conservative ideas simply have no real world correlation. That's why the above linked AlterNet quickie is so fabulous: it totally shuns argumentation and just looks at the numbers.
And, lemme tell ya, the numbers ain't pretty.
Like the excerpt says, virtually any way you look at it, neoliberal economics, which began its uninterrupted reign of dominance, through both Democratic and Republican Congresses and administrations, back when Reagan took office in 1981, have made this country a shitty place to live. We've gone from being a creditor nation to being a debtor nation. Personal savings have dropped to less than zero, while personal debt has skyrocketed. The already wealthy have seen their share of total national wealth increase dramatically, while everybody else has seen their share plummet. Economic growth, on average, has stagnated.
Click through the link and look at the charts. The numbers don't lie.
If anti-regulatory, pro-free trade, anti-tax, and anti-labor policies are so freakin' great, then why have three decades of neoliberal experimentation failed so miserably? I'm sure you can guess what I think.
Posted by Ron at 2:00 AM
Monday, June 21, 2010
Right-Wingers Hate Government But Love Gov’t Help
The editorial board highlighted the fact that Rand Paul, the bizarre Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate, has ideas that sometimes “crash into reality” in awkward ways. For example, Paul hates “big government” programs like Medicaid and Medicare, but the health care programs nevertheless constitute about half of his professional income. Indeed, the right-wing ophthalmologist would like to eliminate most of the federal government, but he’s prepared to leave Medicare intact — the socialized-medicine program that’s helped him pay his mortgage.
Likewise, Paul wanted nothing to do with contributions from senators who support the financial industry bailout in 2008. The pledge suddenly disappeared when his campaign decided he needed the money.
Unfortunately, this isn't the Rand Paul post I've been meaning to write for a few weeks, you know, on how he thinks it is an infringement of sacred property rights for the government to force businesses to serve all races and ethnicities. That one's going to wait for a while longer.
But Paul is fairly representative of the whole conservative big government/small government bipolar intellectual construction of liberalism versus conservatism. Like most self-described conservatives, Paul hates "big government" and loves "small government." Years ago, when I was conservative myself, I thought I understood what that means. Even as a liberal for some years I thought I knew what "big" and "small" government meant. More recently, for the last five or six years or so, however, I've decided I just don't get it.
I mean, sure, I understand what the words "big" and "small" mean, and, of course, I know the word "government." But what, exactly, is "big government"? I have no idea. Back when I thought I understood, I might have said something along the lines of "big government is what we're seeing right now in the Gulf of Mexico, with the Feds moving in to control response to the oil spill, which conservatives should hate because private business could do it better, and because it deprives us of the important economic activity, all the money to be made, that would be created by a private sector response." But, at the moment, conservatives are criticizing the Obama administration, virtually in lockstep, for not being more active in responding to the disaster.
Back when I thought I understood "big" and "small" government, I might have used welfare and other social programs as an example of "big government." But then I discovered the concept of "corporate welfare," big tax breaks and straight-up cash payments to private business, as well as the existence of certain industries, the airlines, for instance, or the recorded music industry, that simply couldn't function without federal support and regulation. Conservatives aren't particularly critical of any of that stuff.
Maybe conservatives are talking about government regulation of economic activity. You know, get the government off the people's backs, and all that. Conservatives hate regulations. But when it comes to the other side of it, you know, labor, conservatives are all about using government to restrict workers' ability to come together and collectively bargain with employers. So it can't be economic regulation, per se, that constitutes "big government."
Then there are roads, the courts, the police, and the military. We've got a pretty big country, situated in a pretty big world, so the government needs to be pretty big in order to supply these necessities that even the most orthodox neoliberal agrees we need.
Either there's something I'm not getting, which is possible because I'm not brilliant, or there is simply no consistent principle behind the notion of "big" and "small" government. Despite my lack of brilliance, I'm inclined to believe the latter option: "big" and "small" government, as political or economic ideas, have no correlation to reality. That is, everybody, across the entire political spectrum, wants to have big government, whether they admit it or not. In the end, it has nothing to do with size, and everything to do with what the government does with your money.
What the government ought to do with your money is a reasonable discussion; whether the government should be "big" or "small" is an exercise in bullshit, and therefore a waste of everybody's time and energy. Yet the conversation continues, with the bogus parameters accepted by both sides. And the big/small debate decisively favors conservatives: who can argue against thrift and savings, or in favor of "oppression"? With conservatives on the winning side in such a debate, there is no incentive on their part to end this characterization of American politics.
Are liberals going to do anything, ever, to change the debate's parameters? If history is any indicator, the answer is "no."
Posted by Ron at 1:58 AM
Saturday, June 19, 2010
145 YEARS AGO WE RID OURSELVES OF SLAVERY...
Though Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862, with an effective date of January 1, 1863, it had minimal immediate effect on most slaves’ day-to-day lives, particularly in Texas. Texas was resistant to the Emancipation Proclamation, and though slavery was very prevalent in East Texas, it was not as common in the Western areas of Texas, particularly the Hill Country, where most German-Americans were opposed to the practice. Juneteenth commemorates June 18 and 19, 1865. June 18 is the day Union General Gordon Granger and 2,000 federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, to take possession of the state and enforce the emancipation of its slaves. On June 19, 1865, legend has it while standing on the balcony of Galveston’s Ashton Villa, Granger read the contents of “General Order No. 3”:
The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.That day has since become known as Juneteenth, a name derived from a portmanteau of the words June and nineteenth.
Former slaves in Galveston rejoiced in the streets with jubilant celebrations. Juneteenth celebrations began in Texas the following year. Across many parts of Texas, freed people pooled their funds to purchase land specifically for their communities’ increasingly large Juneteenth gatherings — including Houston’s Emancipation Park, Mexia’s Booker T. Washington Park, and Emancipation Park in Austin.
I toured Ashton Villa when I was a kid; I don't recall the tour guide telling us about Granger's proclamation, not surprising, I guess, for East Texas race relations back in 1979. But we've come a long way, even since then, and it's once again time for the nation to pat itself on the back for pulling its people a little ways out of barbarism nearly a century and a half ago, pointing ourselves toward a more civilized future.
Even though it's almost exclusively African Americans who celebrate Juneteenth, I'll be damned if I don't, at the very least, give a tip of my hat to the day that that America finally rid itself of its reputation tarnishing embrace of the horrific institution of slavery. I mean, what an amazing leap forward we took that day. Abolishing slavery was every bit as important in the history of this nation as the establishment of democracy was. Seriously. Democracy is a sick hypocritical joke when coupled with slavery. We became a little bit more ourselves that day, a little bit more the noble people of the Enlightenment that we've always wanted to be.
Juneteenth is easily as important as Independence Day. Every American, of every race and ethnicity, ought to celebrate it. I mean, c'mon, we got rid of slavery!!! There's a lot about this country that pisses me off, but then, there's a lot about it that I love, too. And this is one of those things I love.
In honor of Juneteenth, here's New Orleans gospel legend Mahalia Jackson fronting the Duke Ellington Orchestra at Newport back in 1958 on Black, Brown, and Beige's immortal song of black perseverance "Come Sunday." Its emotional intensity and simple straightforward lyrics never fails to move me.
Here are the words:
Lord, dear Lord above, God almighty,
God of love, Please look down and see my people through.
I believe that God put sun and moon up in the sky.
I don't mind the gray skies
'cause they're just clouds passing by.
Heaven is a goodness time. A brighter light on high.
Do unto others as you would have them do to you.
And have a brighter by and by.
Lord, dear Lord above, God almighty,
God of love, Please look down and see my people through.
I believe God is now, was then and always will be.
With God's blessing we can make it through eternity.
Lord, dear Lord above, God almighty,
God of love, Please look down and see my people through.
Posted by Ron at 4:16 PM
Friday, June 18, 2010
POLITICIAN INADVERTANTLY SPEAKS TRUTH
From the Houston Chronicle:
Barton BP 'shakedown' remark draws fire
Republican Rep. Joe Barton of Ennis ignited a firestorm on Capitol Hill on Thursday when he apologized to BP's CEO for what he called a White House "shakedown" that led to the creation of a $20 billion fund for compensating some victims of the Gulf oil spill.
The comments drew immediate criticism from Democrats and embarrassed Republicans worried about being portrayed as sympathizing with BP and Big Oil during an election year.
"I do not want to live in a country where any time a citizen or a corporation does something that is legitimately wrong, (they are) subject to some sort of political pressure that … amounts to a shakedown," Barton told BP CEO Tony Hayward. "So I apologize."
Generally, I'm not very fond of Congressional hearings. You know, the ones that are about issues big enough to make the evening news. For the most part, no information comes out of these things that isn't known already, and the behavior of Representatives and Senators is often nothing but embarrassing. They thump their chests and act all outraged, bullying whoever's on the stand, without so much as a hint that, when whatever shit was going down, they were at the country club or a cocktail party hobnobbing with lobbyists. It's all so gross.
Every now and then, however, something interesting happens.
Like at this BP hearing Thursday morning. We already know that Joe Barton is an idiot. I mean, he's a Texas Republican, so idiocy kind of comes with the territory. But he's not supposed to be this big of an idiot. Apparently, Barton didn't get the Congressional memo sent out to both parties in both houses: until the Gulf crisis is over, everybody act like they hate the oil companies. Really, his apology to BP's CEO probably wouldn't even merit a mention if this weren't the biggest environmental disaster in US history. After all, Congress, contrary to conventional wisdom, represents the corporations, rather than the people of the United States. And the oil corporations are among the biggest players on Capitol Hill. Indeed, even after all the political posturing going on these past few months, I still have difficulty discerning where government ends and the oil industry begins.
But nobody in Washington is supposed to admit it. Especially not right now. They're duty bound to role play like they teach it in the schools: we have a government, and we have business, and they're two different things, and the government polices those businesses for the good of the people. But Barton just mucked the charade up something bad. Sorry the big bad government is holding you accountable for your actions; that's not what this country's about. No doubt almost everybody in Congress agrees with him on this point, but there's a real chance that if the public catches on, voters might actually trump corporate campaign cash, for once, come November.
That's probably the real reason there's so much bipartisan anger about his statement. It's like, "shut the fuck up, man, we don't want democracy breaking out, do we?!? If that happens, we're all fucked!!!"
I do love it when the establishment goes off script.
Posted by Ron at 12:29 AM
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
The Immunity Syndrome
"The Immunity Syndrome" is a second season episode of Star Trek: The Original Series first broadcast January 19, 1968 and repeated June 7, 1968. It is episode #47, production #48, written by Robert Sabaroff and directed by Joseph Pevney.
Overview: The crew of the Enterprise encounters an energy-draining space creature.
Long ago, back when I was a wild undergrad at the University of Texas, the center of my posse's social activities was at my buddy Shane's place, which he shared with two other good friends. We were all big Star Trek fans, often watching the show on VHS while we intoxicated ourselves in various ways, gabbing through, analyzing whatever episode was on, laughing at the goofy stuff.
One day, Shane had to head back to Houston to take care of some shit. I can't remember what he actually had to deal with, girlfriend issues, family issues maybe, but he wasn't excited about the trip. There was a calendar up on the "art wall" my pals had established in the kitchen, on which they inscribed a hand written blurb of some sort for each passing day, usually pretty funny. After Shane had been gone a day or two, one of us noticed that he had written something new on the calendar: "Tell Doctor McCoy he should have wished me luck," a quote from "The Immunity Syndrome." Knowing the episode, we all laughed. Then we got a little nervous on Shane's behalf. Spock said this as he was headed for certain death.
No, seriously. We got a bit worried. What the fuck was Shane having to deal with back in Houston?
Fortunately for Shane, and us, everything turned out alright in the end. But reflecting on this moment years later, it became very clear to me that, for a time, for our group of friends, Star Trek had become cultural capital, our own mythology, our own heightened narrative. It is very appropriate that Shane chose to quote "The Immunity Syndrome" because it is very likely the most mythic of all Star Trek episodes.
Indeed, I'll even go out on a limb and say that this is one is my absolute favorite, forever burned in my brain alongside Jason and the golden fleece, alongside Moses and the burning bush, Jesus on the cross, Arthur and Excalibur, Davey Crockett at the Alamo, General Patton and his Third Army blazing across Nazi occupied Europe, and on and on.
For starters, "The Immunity Syndrome" is all about the Enterprise and its crew. No guest stars, no personalities interfering with the regular cast dynamic. Pure Trek. Everybody does their thing, and does it much better than usual. Uhura, as usual chained to her communications station, is unusually compelling opening and closing hailing frequencies. Chekov doesn't have many lines, but makes the ones he has count: "Captain, the stars are...gone!!!" Scotty is in hog heaven, dealing with scientific and engineering absurdities on the fly and under intense pressure.
Spock and McCoy raise their ongoing feud to a sublime level, alternately bickering and showing one another love and respect, eventually competing to be chosen for a suicide mission.
And Kirk is just flawless.
In short, "The Immunity Syndrome" showcases the undiluted essence of the Star Trek cast. Their perfect form. The gods of my mythology.
But it isn't simply perfect characterization that makes "The Immunity Syndrome" so great. The story is as good as its characters. Like most good episodes, it begins with a bang. On the way home from a mission which has exhausted the entire Enterprise crew, Spock is suddenly disturbed by the psychic death throes of hundreds of fellow Vulcans light years away. Very quickly, Star Fleet orders the Enterprise to investigate these deaths, despite the Captain's protestations that his crew is too tired to be of any use.
The story rattles along at the breakneck pace that distinguishes episodes like "City on the Edge of Forever" and "The Doomsday Machine," and the Enterprise soon enough discovers what most likely is causing all the trouble, an eleven thousand mile long space amoeba that drains energy from human bodies and warp engines alike. This is, quite literally, epic in scope.
So they're already exhausted, and their unfathomable enemy makes them more exhausted. McCoy responds by hopping everybody up on stimulants. Imagine going to fight God while high on meth. I can't tell you how much I love this episode.
And there is a veritable Easter basket full of small goodies here. So many quotable quotes that it's not worth trying to figure out the best for quoting here. Spock, who usually knows everything, ominously asserts, again and again, that he know nothing about the creature they face. The special effects are far better than usual. Lots of good pain moments. Good briefing room scene. Lieutenant Kyle gets some bridge time. And on and on.
Like I said, this is my favorite. I just can't say enough about it. So I might as well shut up: Go treat yourself.
Posted by Ron at 11:32 PM
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
ADHD May Be Associated with Creative Genius
Professor Fitzgerald says: “The same genes that are involved in ADHD can also be associated with risk-taking behavior. While these urges can be problematic or even self-destructive – occasionally leading people into delinquency, addiction or crime – they can also lead to earth-shattering breakthroughs in the fields of the art, science and exploration.
“People with ADHD have symptoms of inattentiveness, but they often also have a capacity to hyper-focus on a narrow area that is of particular interest to them. Clearly ADHD is not a guarantee of genius, but the focused work rate that it produces may enable creative genius to flourish.
“For example, Kurt Cobain – who we know was prescribed the anti-hyperactivity drug Ritalin as a child – had an amazing ability to focus on writing music.”
When I was getting certified to teach back in the late 90s, we talked a lot about ADHD in my educational psychology class. After a while, I had a horrible realization: "Wait a minute. ADHD, an inability to sit still and focus on boring material or tasks for an extended period of time, can only be a problem for modern society, whose classrooms and offices require sitting still and focusing on boring material and tasks for extended periods of time. A hundred years ago people with ADHD were probably working on farms or in a trade or something such that it was no big deal. You're telling me that even though the human organism hasn't changed, what society requires of human beings has changed, so we've all decided that a completely natural aspect of the human condition is now a pathology?"
I've gotta respect my professor's honesty. "Well yeah," she said.
I learned a great deal about the "science" of psychology in that brief exchange. That is, psychology, like economics, is widely understood to be a science. But it's not. I mean, psychology is a legitimate field of study, from which we have learned a great deal of useful information. But it's not a science like chemistry or physics. Those are fields that do a great job of establishing absolute truth about physical reality--yeah, I know it's more complicated than that, but I'm sure you get my drift. Fields like psychology and economics, which use assumptions like dogs use trees and fire hydrants, and are greatly vulnerable to the biases of society's centers of power, cannot possibly establish truth in the way that the so-called hard sciences can. Nevertheless, "sciences" like psychology are endowed with the cultural legitimacy of the hard sciences. That is, when a psychologist says something about how human beings think and feel, people generally accept it as truth in the same way people accept that the earth is round and orbits the sun.
So ADHD is a disability, a pathology, a mental defect. We know this because the "scientists" tell us so. But ADHD is also a naturally occurring aspect of what we are as human beings, an aspect that is only a problem because of how today's social establishment has decided we must live our lives. ADHD may also very well be associated with genius. Treating it as a pathology, then, might also be treating genius as a pathology. This is science?
The point here is that we need to be keenly aware of what is science and what is simply scientific. Sodium and chlorine coming together to make table salt is science. Deregulating the oil industry because regulating business is always bad for the economy is simply scientific. See the difference? The former we know for sure because we can replicate the experiment at home if we want to. The latter may be true in some circumstances but clearly not always.
We should always take what psychologists and economists tell us with a grain of salt. As if watching buddies of mine snorting Ritalin off a mirror at a party when I was an undergrad years ago didn't tell me we have severe problems with how we understand ADHD.
Posted by Ron at 10:34 PM
FROM THE REAL ART SPORTS DESK
Big 12 remaining intact with 10 schools
From the Houston Chronicle:
Meanwhile UT officials will take part in a news conference on Tuesday morning to discuss the school’s decision to stick with the Big 12 – now down to 10 after Colorado and Nebraska’s exits for the Pacific-10 and the Big Ten, respectively, last week.
As recently as Sunday night, A&M sources were certain the Aggies were bound for the Southeastern Conference – that they had the votes in place from regents to ensure the shift. UT sources had already said the Longhorns intended to join the Pac-10, along with Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.
But news Monday from Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe that the league could double its payout to member schools thanks to new TV deals piqued UT and A&M’s interest – and the schools agreed it was in their best interests to make the Big 12 work. UT, too, can move forward with developing its own TV network, a big part of the lure for the Longhorns in making the Big 12 work.
It's been an annoying week.
First I hear that Nebraska was bolting to the Big Ten. Then I hear that Colorado's going to the Pac-10. Okay. That kind of makes sense. The Big Ten is a sort of Midwestern conference that Nebraska would fit well; the Pac-10 has a lot of Western schools, and Colorado is in the West. Cool, fine. But my beloved Longhorns, and the Aggies who I love to hate, playing California schools? No, no, no, no. This is just wrong. I mean, the speculation about Texas and A&M going to the SEC makes more sense, I guess, but then Texas would probably be playing LSU, where I got my master's degree, every fucking season. That's something of a worst case scenario for me. I just can't have my two schools knocking each other out of championship contention year after year.
Fortunately, it's not coming to that. Big sigh of relief.
On the other hand, it looks like the near dissolution of the Big 12 has more to do with conference payout to member schools than anything else. That is, college is getting to be as capitalistically cynical as the pros. Is big sports money going to wipe out the sense of tradition that makes, for me anyway, college ball so much more appealing than pro ball? I want to say no, but big money has an awful tendency to destroy everything of value that you can't stamp a price tag on.
Just don't start paying the players, as many have suggested. I don't think I could stomach that.
Posted by Ron at 12:22 AM
Monday, June 14, 2010
GOP DIRTY TRICKS IN S.C. DEM SENATE PRIMARY
South Carolina Democratic Party chairwoman Carol Fowler said she had not seen Greene since he filed to run. Clarendon County Democratic Party Chairman Cal Land told local newspaper The Item that local party leaders had not met Greene, that he had not attended any local Democratic events and had not responded to any invitations to local stump meetings. He did not attend the state Democratic party convention, did not file the legally required forms with the Secretary of the Senate and the Federal Election Commission, and attempted to pay his $10,400 filing fee with a personal check, rather than a check from a campaign account.
The day after the primary election, the media reported that Greene was facing felony obscenity charges stemming from a November 2009 arrest for allegedly showing a pornographic Internet site to an 18-year-old female University of South Carolina student and then propositioning her in a computer lab. The mother of the victim has claimed that USC authorities had warned Greene not to visit certain parts of campus in the past.
Though his victory has baffled many, several explanations have been offered. Some observers, including State Representative Bakari Sellers, have stated that the fact that his name appeared above Vic Rawl may have caused voters who were unfamiliar with either candidate to vote for Greene. South Carolina State Senator Robert Ford observed that the surname "Greene" is common among African Americans, and suggested that fact may have caused African American voters to identify with him. There has also been speculation that voters may have confused the candidate with soul singer Al Green.
Journalists and politicians have raised the possibility that Greene might be a Republican plant. South Carolina Republicans have been known to recruit African-American challengers to run against white frontrunners in Democratic primaries, with a view toward damaging the frontrunner's general election prospects. House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn has said that he suspects Greene is a Republican plant and has called for an investigation into the primary. Clyburn recalled the events surrounding the 1990 primary, when Rod Shealy recruited unemployed black fisherman Benjamin Hunt, Jr. to mount a primary challenge to Arthur Ravenel, Jr. He also claims that Greene's campaign manager works for Representative Joe Wilson (R-S.C.).
It is entirely possible, I suppose, that this is just some weird fluke: a guy who didn't campaign, has no name recognition, no job, no money, no home, no political experience, and is facing felony obscenity charges can conceivably win the Democratic nomination for US Senator. I mean, it's not like we're talking about the existence of God or Santa Claus or anything along those lines. This is definitely in the realm of the possible.
Of course, as my friend Jay once observed about my hopefulness when I was getting my ass kicked in a game of Risk, it's also possible that all the air in the room could spontaneously move to one side.
Who are we kidding? Greene did not win because his name appeared first on the ballot--maybe that works with something like county dog catcher, but not for a US Senate race. Greene did not win because lots of black people are named Greene--that's nothing short of insulting. And Greene most definitely did not win because voters confused him with Al Green. Do they think we're stupid? This stinks to high heavens.
Check out this CNN interview with him. The poor guy, obviously somebody's dupe or patsy, can barely string a sentence together. One wonders why his honorable discharge from the military was "involuntary." If you had asked me a decade ago if there was some sort of political dirty trick going on here, I would have been skeptical. After all, it's not like we're some banana republic. This is the USA. But that was before then Florida governor Jeb Bush, in collusion with then Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, literally stole the election for his brother back in 2000. Apparently, we are some banana republic. That is, Republican operatives, we know for sure, and probably Democrats, too, are ready, willing, and able to subvert the electoral process for their own gain.
I mean, we don't know that's the case in South Carolina. But we do know that we live in a country where political players can and do fuck over the electorate in order to win. And right now, without any hard information, the only reasonable speculation is that S.C. Republicans tampered with the Democratic primary in order to nominate their preferred US Senate competition, a semi-crazy unemployed guy up on obscenity charges.
Okay, go prove me wrong.
Posted by Ron at 1:27 AM
Saturday, June 12, 2010
THE WRITING ON THE WALL
From the New York Times courtesy of Hullabaloo:
Imagining the Worst in BP’s Future
The idea that BP might one day file for bankruptcy, particularly as part of a merger that would enable it to cordon off its liabilities from the spill, is starting to percolate on Wall Street. Bankers and lawyers are already sizing up potential deals (and counting their potential fees).
And already, flinty legal minds are dreaming up scenarios in which BP would file a prepackaged bankruptcy and separate the costs of the cleanup — and potentially billions of dollars in legal claims — into a separate corporate entity.
Yes, well, I wrote this back on May 2nd:
There's just no way American taxpayers can avoid taking a major hit on this. I'm sure that BP lawyers are already discussing ways to reorganize under bankruptcy laws that will allow them to avoid the lion's share of costs, just as Union Carbide did with the Bhopal disaster back in the 1980s.That is, early on, the scale of the disaster, the sheer size of it, was such that such an outcome seemed, and still seems, all but inevitable.
Indeed, all the weird BP maneuverings, all the bizarre statements and lies, like their extraordinarily low estimates of leakage, or this latest denial of the existence of underwater oil plumes, all the secrecy, the taking control of Louisiana beach areas and denying access to reporters, the refusal of ventilator masks to fishermen hired as cleanup personnel, in spite of numerous reports of illness, which BP attributes to food poisoning, and on and on, all this stuff makes complete sense if you're looking at an organization preparing itself for a massive court battle. What did they know, and when did they know it? This is all about positioning the company in terms of liability.
Bankruptcy is just another tool to use in a legal fight, and quite an effective one, at that, if history is any indicator.
Like I keep saying, corporations are legally bound to do nothing but maximize their shareholders' profits. This is the sole motivation of the corporation, no matter what the circumstance. Every statement BP makes, every action they undertake, can only be understood in these terms. There is no altruism, no morality, no ethics. There is only profit, or, in this case, avoidance of loss. BP has been fighting these lawsuits from day one; it's just that nobody but them appears to realize it. And I think there's every reason to believe that they will have done well in court once it's all over but the crying.
We're going to pay for the vast majority of this, not BP. As the FOX people keep saying, this may very well end up being Obama's Katrina, the Democratic wunderkind's grand failure. But then, what's the alternative? Another Republican? More drilling with less regulation and oversight? Give me a break. If anything, this ongoing disaster proves beyond any doubt that corporate power literally runs this country: neither the Democrats nor the Republicans appear to have the ability or willingness to do anything.
This really is depressing.
Posted by Ron at 11:19 PM
Friday, June 11, 2010
The No-Stimulus Economy
From Matthew Yglesias' blog, courtesy of Eschaton:
If fiscal stimulus is so great, then why hasn’t the Obama administration’s massive stimulus program helped improve the economy? Well, via Mark Thoma, the answer is that there hasn’t been any net fiscal stimulus, all the Obama administration’s efforts plus the automatic stabilizers have done is mitigate the contractionary impact of state and local policy...
Looked at comprehensively, what the country has been implementing is a mild version of the conservative policy prescription for boosting growth—fire bureaucrats and trim spending. And it’s not working very well.
That is, all that the "stimulus" has done is to offset state and local spending cuts. And that's about to change for the worse: as the stimulus money runs out, states, which are generally constitutionally bound to keep balanced budgets, are primed to tighten their belts even further, and there will be no more federal offset to cushion the blow. The economy is probably going to get worse.
It is extraordinarily frightening to think that I, just some guy who waits tables in New Orleans, understand macroeconomics better than our leaders, but I'm starting to think it's true. The classic case study in stimulus spending is, of course, the Great Depression and FDR's New Deal programs. Conservatives rightly point out that it wasn't the New Deal that ended the Depression; rather, it was World War II. This thought usually makes conservatives smile, thinking they've just destroyed the philosophical rationale behind Keynesian economics. But the whole "WWII is what actually got us out of the Depression" meme, in reality, proves the utility of stimulus spending. That is, FDR didn't go as far as he should have with the New Deal. Only spending on the scale of what was needed to mobilize the economy in order to fight the massive German and Japanese war machines can thaw a frozen aggregate demand.
If there's anything to learn from the fact that WWII got us out of the Depression, it's that real stimulus spending needs to be much, much bigger than anything people in Congress are willing to consider. Thus, Obama's meek stimulus package was a preordained failure. And now the geniuses in Washington are insisting that we need to cut spending in order to fight an imaginary inflation threat: we should all prepare ourselves, in whatever ways we can, for a decade or more of a shitty economy with sluggish growth.
This is all so fucked up.
Posted by Ron at 12:43 AM
Thursday, June 10, 2010
"Obsession" is a second season episode of Star Trek: The Original Series and was broadcast December 15, 1967. It is episode #42, production #47, written by Art Wallace, and directed by Ralph Senensky.
Overview: Captain James T. Kirk becomes obsessed with destroying a murderous entity.
You know, this might have been a pretty good episode, albeit with a couple of awkward spots, but with a script requiring William Shatner to play well outside his comfort zone, it is fatally flawed. That is, Kirk is forced to confront what he considers to be a profound personal failure from a decade earlier, and Shatner is simply not up to the task. Instead, "Obsession" is pretty mediocre, with only a couple of nice moments.
I mean, Kirk is awful from almost the beginning.
The action gets started quickly. During the teaser, that first short scene before the opening credits, Kirk, planetside with a landing party, gets a whiff, literally, of an alien monster he failed to destroy when he was a young lieutenant serving on the USS Farragut. Instantly, Shatner adopts a sort of tragic attitude, staring off into the distance, carefully adjusting his face into a semi-sad expression, which you'd better get used to because he comes back to it again and again.
This is Shatner's weakness as an actor. He is profoundly comfortable when he is strong and in charge, always fun to watch, but when he has to deal with any sort of vulnerability at all, such as romance, or, in this case, feelings of failure, he resorts to gimmickry and facade. That is, he fakes it. And when an actor doesn't believe in what he's doing, the audience doesn't, either. In many ways, "Obsession" is a case study in why so many people think Shatner is a bad actor. He's not a bad actor, of course, just lazy. When there's nobody around who's willing to call bullshit on that laziness, he sleepwalks his way through whatever doesn't inspire him. Most of the time, this doesn't really undermine the whole project. But because "Obsession" utterly depends on Kirk plumbing the depths of his soul, we're shit out of luck. Just another day at the office for Shatner, and that's how the episode comes off.
It doesn't help, either, that the alien monster here is just a cloud of gas. That wouldn't matter so much if Shatner had shown up for this one, but he didn't, and that just makes this episode's antagonist all the less satisfying. Nor does it help that the young actor playing the son of the Farragut's captain, for whose death Kirk blames himself, and the potential source for some fabulous dramatic conflict, isn't much more than an untalented good looking guy. Scenes between Captain Kirk and Ensign Garrovick might as well be performed by Disney animatronic figures.
But the really damnable thing about "Obsession" is that it has just enough good in it to make you mourn its failure. The story is really interesting, if not well executed. In spite of Shatner's fakery, you really do want to know what's going to happen next. Here and there, you even think they might actually pull it off, somehow redeeming the episode before it ends. I mean, "Obsession" doesn't redeem itself, but there are some shining moments.
Spock and McCoy have a marvelous scene discussing the Captain's irrational behavior. There is a hint of the usual friction between the two, but both of them push it aside for the commander that they love. Very honest work from both of them, starkly contrasting Shatner's inauthenticity. Indeed, Nimoy and Kelley's work is infectious: the scene where they confront Kirk with their belief that he might be losing it clearly inspires Shatner--Kirk is quite good here.
And that's another annoyance. Once he's convinced everybody that he's not crazy, once he's reversed roles with the creature and become the predator himself, the Captain is on home turf, his usual fun self. For the final third or so of "Obsession," he's not bad at all.
There are some other good moments. A space chase at warp eight gets Scotty freaking out over the engines--"We'll blow up any minute now!!!"--which provokes a marvelous dramatic pause ending only when Kirk orders the ship to drop down to warp six. There is a wonderful moment of chaos on the bridge, capped by Chekov's dramatic declaration that the entity has entered the ship.
There is even a replay of the final moments of "The Doomsday Machine," right down to the malfunctioning transporter, right down, even, to using the same music, that I'd love to condemn as plaigarism, except for the fact that it's so well done. And McCoy gets a great line in the midst of the dramatic rehash:
Crazy way to travel, spreading a man's molecules across the universe!Good stuff, even though you've already seen it before in a much better context.
And I can't forget to mention all the dead red shirts, five by my count, although there may be more. Everybody loves it when red shirts die!
But like I said, in the end, the good stuff just can't save the episode. I mean, it's still Star Trek, after all, and worth watching if only for that, but when you see how good "Obsession" could have been, but wasn't, it really ends up being an exercise in frustration.
But, by all means, watch it anyway.
An episode about gas.
Posted by Ron at 1:20 AM