"Mirror, Mirror" is an episode of Star Trek: The Original Series. It is a second-season episode, #33, production #39, and was broadcast for the first time on October 6, 1967. It was repeated on April 12, 1968. It was written by Jerome Bixby and directed by Marc Daniels.
The episode introduces the alternate reality "Mirror Universe" concept in Star Trek for the first time. The episode has a transporter mishap swapping Captain Kirk and his companions with their evil counterparts in a parallel universe. In the so-called Mirror Universe, the Enterprise is a ship of the Terran Empire rather than the United Federation of Planets, promotions are earned by assassination, and Mr. Spock has a goatee.
With this one, the second season gets back to its usual high standard.
Indeed, the teaser, that brief scene before the opening credits, uses what is, at this point, Star Trek's tried and true method of starting with a big huge mind fuck: right after beaming up from what appear to be routine economic negotiations with a sovereign planet, Kirk, Scotty, McCoy, and Uhura, who is now inexplicably dressed as a Federation Spice Girl, are flabbergasted to see a bearded Mr. Spock using a small electronic device known as an "agonizer" to ruthlessly torture Lieutenant Kyle, corporal punishment for his inadequate performance at the transporter controls. Kyle, in intense pain, slumps to the floor.
Then the credits roll. Yeah, we're obviously in for a good one.
As with other great Trek episodes, "Mirror, Mirror" uses a combination of fabulous plot, breakneck pacing, good characterization, and cool shots to force viewers to desperately want to know what's going to happen next. For instance, the scene immediately following the opening credits is yet another Hitchcockian exercise in cinematic efficiency, the kind we first saw in "The City on the Edge of Forever." It's short, only about ten seconds, but it tells us everything we need to know about the situation in which Kirk and company have found themselves. The four members of the landing party exit the transporter room in route to the sickbay. The Captain's four officers immediately start to ask questions once they're away from the mysterious bearded Spock, but Kirk quiets them immediately. He scowls, nervously looking about this Enterprise that is not the one he knows. Crewmen pass by and offer their commander the ancient Roman salute, which clearly confuses the Captain. As they make their way toward their destination, we see Kirk slowly start to figure it out, and by the time they've made it to sickbay, even though he may not fully understand what's going on, he has developed a working plan. Ten seconds. But in that brief moment we see the Captain first on the ropes, then pulling himself up, then taking charge and moving forward. It's just a quick walk down the corridor, but it says everything.
Indeed, Shatner is at his best in this one. He uses a formula in most scenes that has a devastatingly dramatic effect: confusion, analysis, plan, commit to action. Time and again, Kirk is brutally reminded that this is not his Enterprise, not his universe, and, again and again, he yanks himself out of his dysphoria and gets to work. His lying is particularly interesting. I mean, it's all gimmickry, the sort of actor tricks my professors would always call me out on when I was in grad school, but it's damned effective. A mirror universe character would, say, ask him a question that he obviously doesn't understand. We see confusion, followed by thought, followed by understanding, and then commitment to his lying response: Spock asks if the landing party suffered any "abnormal effects" from the transporter; Kirk freezes like a deer in the headlights, and then decisively orders his people to sickbay.
But it's not simply Shatner's mirror universe formula. He really shines here. This episode has what is, in my opinion, Kirk's finest romance scenes of the entire series. Part of it is that he has good chemistry with Barbara Luna, who plays Lieutenant Marlena Moreau. But the scene is written such that Shatner easily avoids the bullshit lovey-dovey crap he usually pulls. That is, in most Kirk love scenes, Shatner adopts a sort of romantic white knight attitude--attitude is always a poor substitute for pursuing objectives and playing actions. But here, he's so confused and distracted by the overall situation that the romantic knight never really comes out. He seems genuinely surprised by his attraction to Marlena. That is, the writing manipulates Shatner into some honest authenticity.
But like I said, the chemistry with Luna is damned good, and that makes Shatner, better, too. She plays a backstory romance about which Kirk has absolutely no knowledge, and she plays it to the hilt. In one moment, she offers him sex, which he rejects, so she ends the relationship. It's like, WTF? What the hell kind of relationship does this woman have with the mirror Kirk? Meanwhile, our Kirk is just trying to figure out what she wants--kind of like a real relationship, huh? After Kirk domineeringly grabs her wrist, preventing what would have been a violent slap, we see his best Star Trek kiss. These scenes just sizzle with sexuality.
On the other hand, evil Kirk, one of a seemingly endless line of evil Kirks throughout the series, is pretty goofy. Shatner just goes for "evil asshole," which is a fairly one dimensional approach to playing a role. But that's okay. We don't see much of the mirror Kirk, and the goofiness is all in good fun. Actually, there are, as usual, several goofy moments in "Mirror, Mirror," but they really don't do anything to sabotage the episode's sense of drama. Indeed, these moments serve as some good comic relief. When the landing party makes it to sickbay after the above mentioned ten second corridor walk, Kirk asks if anyone felt dizzy during the beam up. McCoy and Uhura speak at the same time rendering their answers unintelligible. Scotty trails with a clearly audible, and very silly, "I did." McCoy at one point exclaims "I'm a doctor, not an engineer." Chief Engineer Scott comes back with "Now, you're an engineer." Later, after shooting up a guard with his famous knockout hypo, McCoy gleefully exclaims "That ought to hold him about six hours!" Spock dryly observes that "The agony booth is a most effective means of discipline," while Chekov screams and wails like nobody else can. And Sulu, as the scar-faced bloodthirsty chief of security for the mirror Enterprise, is just plain funny, kind of a comic book villain.
But don't get me wrong. Sulu is great. This episode needs comic book villains, and he's definitely up to the task. His assassination attempt is nothing short of marvelous: "Regrettable, but it will leave me in command." Chekov, too, is great, as the Machiavellian would be assassin of his Captain. (As a side note, it is important to observe how youth identification characters such as Chekov can so easily go wrong. Imagine Wesley Crusher saying "So you die, Captain, and we all move up in rank!" Right, it's a horrific thought. We should never ever take Chekov for granted.) And Uhura finally gets to do more than opening up hailing frequencies. She seduces evil Sulu, and then rejects him with a dagger; she disarms the phaser wielding Lt. Moreau. And did I mention that her Spice Girls outfit makes her totally hot? Well, she's totally hot.
Spock is also, as usual, great. Unlike his co-star Shatner, Leonard Nimoy uses several subtlties to differentiate mirror Spock from our Spock. His mind meld with the Doctor, for instance, is far more aggressive than we usually see--after all, the mind meld has been described as being profoundly intimate, but mirror Spock just goes for it like a drunk stockbroker with a hooker at a convention in Chicago. But the writing for Spock is good, too. When it becomes clear that his Captain won't talk, the science officer threatens Kirk with torturing the "sentimental and soft" Doctor McCoy, taking the traditional Bones/Spock friction to a wild extreme. And there's a fabulous fight, pitting mirror Spock against Kirk, Uhura, McCoy, and Scotty. Really, he just beats the shit out of everybody until Kirk finally manages to smash a human skull over his head.
This one's got everything. Check it out.
Spock forces an extremely intimate moment with Dr. McCoy.
Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Posted by Ron at 11:20 PM
Priests & Pedophilia: What Authoritarian
Religion, Families & Schools Have Wrought
If we are willing to ask the deeper question: What is it about hierarchical orthodox religions which is so conducive to abuse?” We have expert guidance in solving that mystery.
We have help from Louis Althusser, one of France’s great philosophers. Althusser discovered subtle forms of influence that keep people subordinated to unjust authority. They influence people even more deeply than the police, the law, and the army. They inspire people to discipline themselves from the inside, as if their subordination is the way things have to be. The serfs in medieval Europe toiled for the Lord of the manor because they deeply believed that toiling for the Lord was their ordained, God impelled destiny. People obey their parents and their church or temple because they learn to obey before they even know what they are learning. They usually follow directions at school because they learn that the teacher and the principal are to be obeyed without question. They internalize discipline that therefore, does not have to be externally enforced. They learn the lines of dominance and subordination before they know that there could be any choice. Althusser names the biggest three types of internal disciplinary forces "ideological state apparatuses". They prepare citizens for unquestioned obedience. The three primary ideological state apparatuses are: the authoritarian family, hierarchical authoritarian religions, and authoritarian hierarchical educational systems.
Well, that's what I've been saying. At least the part about "authoritarian hierarchical education systems," which is a pretty good description of the American approach to schooling. The above excerpted essay focuses on the end result of authority indoctrination within the Catholic Church, and if you also consider the Inquisition, Galileo's house arrest, the role priests played in the enslavement and mass murder of Native Americans, and a whole lot more, you see that, historically, it's about much more than molesting hundreds of thousands of children. That is, authoritarianism, in the guise of Catholicism, has exacted, and continues to exact, a harsh and massive toll measured in human lives.
But it's the same thing outside the Church.
In spite of all our talk about freedom, the United States is a well disciplined nation. Sure, we bitch and moan about pretty much everything, but, in the end, most of us usually do what we're told, and believe what we're told to believe. Many of us laugh at the Tea Partiers who have been told by authorities they trust that President Obama is a socialist, or a fascist, and that he and the Democrats are going to end America as we understand it. But are they really much different from the the rest of us who eagerly believed that we needed to invade Iraq because of Saddam Hussein's alleged weapons of mass destruction, even while we were swallowing the contradictory White House line that North Korea, which definitely has nuclear weapons, should not be invaded? Are the Tea Partiers any different from the rabid foam-mouth Democrats who blame Ralph Nader voters for the entire Bush presidency? Any different from the progressive Obama supporters who ignored his winking and nudging about withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan because he was telling them to "hope"?
No difference. Most Americans respond positively to authority. I mean, it's more complicated than that, of course, because people obey the authorities they trust. But the key word here is "obey." We want to obey because we've all undergone obedience training.
My posts on education and authoritarianism tend to emphasize how obedience training is antithetical to critical thinking, which is education's holy grail. But a necessary ramification of a nation filled with people who cannot think critically is a nation that is ill suited to democracy. That is, when the people don't question what authorities tell them, don't disobey illegal orders, don't break unjust laws, don't defy illegitimate leaders, rule of, by, and for the people becomes moot. In other words, obedience training masquerading as education doesn't simply result in a dull and thick-headed population: rather, it makes democracy impossible.
And that's pretty much where we are right now.
Posted by Ron at 1:44 AM
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
9 Tied to Militia Are Arrested in Plot
From the AP via the New York Times courtesy of Eschaton:
Nine suspects tied to a Christian militia in the Midwest are charged with conspiring to kill police officers, then attack a funeral in the hopes of killing more law enforcement personnel, federal prosecutors said Monday.
U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade said agents moved on the group because the Hutaree members were planning a violent reconnaissance mission sometime in April -- just a few days away.
"It is believed by the Hutaree that this engagement would then serve as a catalyst for a more wide-spread uprising against the government," the indictment charges.
It includes charges of seditious conspiracy, possessing a firearm during a crime of violence, teaching the use of explosives, and attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction -- homemade bombs.
The indictment charges members of the group conspired "to levy war against the United States, (and) to oppose by force the authority of the government of the United States."
Let's see, "Christian," para-military, extreme anti-government views, apocalyptic outlook. I think it's safe to refer to this Hutaree group as right-wing. But then, when shit like this happens, it's always right-wing. There's just no corollary on the left. I mean okay, we've got "eco-terrorists" in very small numbers causing some vandalism here and there, from time to time, and we've got PETA spraying animal blood on rich people, but the American left, even the far extreme left, doesn't have anything even coming close to guys in fatigues and camouflage running around with bombs and assault rifles plotting to blow up cop funerals. For that king of thing, you've got to go back to the 1970s, when the left did, indeed, have a number of wackos trying to spur on something Marxist and revolutionary and groovy.
It was stupid and dangerous then, and the shift from left to right over the decades hasn't done anything to make American terrorists any less stupid or dangerous. As with the "revolutionary" activity in the 1970s, which never had a chance in hell of fomenting Marxist rebellion in the US, right-wing terrorists today haven't a snowball's chance of kicking off a civil war for their Jesus and market utopia. But this kind of bullshit can and does get people killed: just as rational and loyal leftists in the 70s had a moral responsibility to condemn their stupid ideological comrades, so too do rational and loyal right-wingers today have a moral responsibility to condemn their idiot brethren.
I've got a funny feeling that's not going to happen anytime soon.
Posted by Ron at 12:10 AM
Monday, March 29, 2010
From Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman's blog, courtesy of Eschaton:
Dealing With The Debt: A Brief Note
That’s not, in economic terms, a huge number. We could raise taxes that much and still be one of the lowest-tax nations in the advanced world. Or we could save a significant share of that total by not being totally prepared for the day when Soviet tanks sweep across the North German plain.
Krugman's post succinctly explains why both the federal deficit, and the debt upon which it builds, are, despite right-wing freaking out over the subject, very manageable over the long term, and not likely to cause the kind of maleffects about which the economic snake oil salesmen loudly warn.
But what interests me is his throwaway line about Soviet tanks. That is, why do we devote nearly half, or more, of the yearly federal budget to the military? Or better, why do we have a military that is almost larger than all other armed forces around the world put together?
It kind of made sense during the Cold War, when we were in what seemed an endless arms race against an enemy that openly claimed it wanted to spread revolution to the entire world. I say "kind of made sense" because Soviet military and economic strength was almost always wildly overestimated. That is, we never really needed to spend so much on the military; the threat never existed at the level the US power establishment believed it to be. But people were scared shitless that the Soviets were going to roll over Western Europe. And then head for the United States.
But the Soviet Union no longer exists. Indeed, that kind of threat, a major conventional military force taking over the world nation by nation, simply no longer exists. For the foreseeable future, the worst that our armed forces will face, as far as conventional warfare goes, will be skirmishes and brush wars. Bullshit stuff relative to the size of our military. Sure, there's terrorism, too, but that's not conventional warfare. Tanks and jets can't stop underwear bombs--only good police work can do that. But we're still spending nearly fifty cents of every tax dollar you pay to keep us prepared to fight WWIII against an enemy that doesn't even exist in our imaginations.
That is, we're wasting a great deal of money on high tech toys that ultimately rust from disuse.
I suppose one can make the argument that the US is the de facto policeman for global capitalism, you know, keeping the price of oil artificially low, bullying so-called "rogue states" that don't play by capitalist rules, wresting away land from "socialist" third worlders, all that fun stuff. But if that's the case, I want a better return on my tax dollars. If capitalists are able to greatly benefit privately from the public security force known as the US military, and you and I are paying for it, shouldn't we get a better cut of the benefits? And I don't think that simply living in Capitalist Utopia is worth a damn at all. I have trouble making rent, but I'm still paying for rich guys to get richer safely. That's bullshit.
Even so, we're ready to fight WWIII. That's still way more than capitalism needs to function as effectively as it does now. Like I said, brush wars and skirmishes, that's what's on tap for the Capitalist Police Force. So I ask again, why must we bankrupt ourselves on this massive hot rod called the armed forces?
We know why defense contractors want it. Same with the Pentagon. Politicians, too. But that doesn't explain why military spending is so fucking popular with rank and file Americans. Personally, I think we have a cult fetish for war and warriors. That is, we see ourselves as a warrior nation. And that's pretty sick when there aren't any more wars to fight. Actually, it's pretty sick when there are wars to fight.
I prefer to think of America as a nation of builders and problem solvers. But who gives a shit what I think?
Posted by Ron at 1:23 AM
Sunday, March 28, 2010
MORE COMPUTER WOES...
...so no post tonight. I'm up and running for the moment, but it's dicey, to be sure. This is frustrating. I had a tech-forced hiatus only a few months ago. It might be time to send this one to Valhalla. It is old. I've had it since at least the summer of 2002. Maybe earlier; I don't recall. I had to replace the mother board back in '04, but that was six years ago. I'm thinking that what I've been considering as far as upgrading is concerned might be handled better by just buying a new box. We'll see if my current fix holds. Otherwise, I might be heading to Best Buy or somewhere along those lines on my next day off, Wednesday, to get my own personal next generation of technology.
At any rate, if you don't see anything new here for the next few days, it's because computers suck.
UPDATE: Everything seems to be going really well with my computer fix. So far. Crisis averted. So far.
Posted by Ron at 3:16 AM
Friday, March 26, 2010
RIGHT WING FREAK OUT OVER HEALTH CARE KICKS INTO HIGH GEAR
Cantor: Dems capitalizing on extremist threats
Lawmakers uniformly condemned the harassment, but that's where the agreement ended. Democrats said Republicans were slow to condemn the vigilantism, while Republicans said Democrats were playing politics with the threats.
"By ratcheting up the rhetoric, some will only inflame these situations to dangerous levels," said House Republican Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia. "Enough is enough. It has to stop."
At least 10 Democrats now have reported harassment, including incidents involving at least four of their offices in New York, Arizona and Kansas. More frequent have been obscenity-laced, sometime-threatening phone messages. An undisclosed number of lawmakers have been given increased police protection.
And from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
Newt Gingrich: Democrats bear some responsibility
for threats, anger over health care
“But look, I think there’s something very disingenuous about the Democratic leaders who attacked the tea party movement, who refused to hold town hall meetings, who refused to go back home, who kept the Congress locked up in Washington, and are now shocked that people are angry.
“I think the Democratic leadership has to take some moral responsibility for having behaved with such arrogance, in such a hostile way, that the American people are deeply upset. So let’s be honest with this. This is a game that they’re playing.
Click here for the rest.
For your understanding, here's what the Republicans are saying in plain English:
Yeah, yeah, threats are bad. We don't support the threats. But if the Democrats hadn't passed health care reform in the first place, there wouldn't be any threats, so it's, you know, kind of their fault, anyway. And telling the press and the police about these threats, which are their fault, is playing politics, which is wrong. Of course, we don't ever play politics in the Republican Party. The Democrats are bad people.None of this is a surprise. The threats, the spitting on Congressmen as they went in to vote for HCR, the n-word being hurled at Congressional Black Caucus members as they arrived at the Capitol, and more, this is all par for the course, nothing more than a reflection of the incendiary and apocalyptic rhetoric in which conservatives have been wallowing since Obama was elected.
Actually, it goes back to the Clinton era.
And this kind of condemnation/counterattack isn't new either. Remember when that abortion doctor was gunned down? The right wing was like "Well murder is bad, of course, but Dr. Tiller killed thousands of babies, and that's even worse." There is no shock. No remorse. No sense of "hey, this is fucked up; our people are threatening the lives of Congressmen simply because they did their job." All we get is self-righteousness and sanctimony.
Really, this is what I hate most about the modern American Conservative Movement: they simply don't give a shit what anybody else thinks, don't want to know when they're totally wrong, and get really really really pissed off when they don't get their way. Smug doesn't even come close to describing their attitudes about democracy. It's like Dick Cheney coming into the White House back in '01 and proclaiming that "the grownups are in charge now." Like you're a teenager or something if you're not a conservative.
I continue to be very concerned about the ongoing right wing flirtation with violence as legitimate political strategy, but, on the other hand, I'm loving this, too. Conservatives are totally freaking out because they have failed utterly. Bunch of pussy sore losers. Their howls are music to my ears.
They sure do squeal like a pig, don't they?
A symbolic representation of Republicans dealing with a major legislative loss.
Okay, actually, it's Ned Beatty being raped in Deliverance. Same thing.
Posted by Ron at 12:09 AM
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
"The Apple" is a second season episode of Star Trek. It is episode #34, production #38, first broadcast on October 13, 1967 and repeated July 12, 1968. It was written by Max Ehrlich, and directed by Joseph Pevney.
Overview: The crew of the Enterprise visits a mysterious paradise controlled by a computer.
No apologies for this one. "The Apple" sucks. It sucks intensely. One of the worst episodes of the original series--I'd call it the worst, but I'm certain the third season's "And the Children Shall Lead" occupies that spot. If there's any saving grace here, it's the unintentional comedy. And some of it's pretty darned funny. Just prepare yourself: when you see something that you're not sure about, simply laugh at it.
I mean okay. There are a few interesting elements in "The Apple." Gamma Trianguli VI, where most of the episode's action takes place, for instance, has a pretty cool looking red sky. The massive landing party, nine strong, so big it had to be beamed down in two batches, is something I don't think happens in any other episode. Scotty, who remains in command on the bridge, is good, and his subplot, dealing with the alien computer-god's attempts to destroy the ship, is kind of interesting, too. Indeed, all the interaction between Kirk and Scotty over the communicator, which continues the joking, first seen in "The Doomsday Machine," about Scotty being a hired hand, is a lot of fun. Chekov's good, too, exhibiting the Ruso-centrism for which he eventually became well known, as well as deftly romancing babe-of-the-week Yeoman Martha Landon. The hewn rock snake head that serves as terrestrial presence of the above mentioned computer-god, Vaal, while goofy, gave me nightmares when I was a kid. And four security guards meet gruesome and meaningless deaths, adding to the ongoing motif of throwaway red shirts, first established in last week's "The Changeling." There's also a nice shot of the Enterprise firing its phaser banks.
But that's just about it. Everything else is either extraordinarily problematic or just stupid.
Structurally, the episode suffers from too many scenes that make their point quickly, but meander meaninglessly well past their utility. That is, there's a lot of filler here, with very little that serves to advance the plot. You often sit there wondering why things are happening. But that's just a general note.
More specifically, '''The Apple" is badly written. Especially the dialogue. And especially the characters. William Shatner as Kirk, for instance, acts his heart out, but to no avail. There's just no way he can make bad writing work. Kirk's scolding of Spock, right after the first officer saves his captain's life, just makes no sense, one of those "why is this happening?" moments. Indeed, Kirk's behavior is just bizarre throughout. As each of his security guards is killed, the captain becomes increasingly besieged by low self-esteem, which, when it appears that the Enterprise will also be lost, ultimately results in a strange Spock moment, as the Vulcan essentially gives Kirk a hollow and weird motivational speech. Kirk again falls flat at the end of the episode when, right after he has killed their god, he gives the primitive aliens a terse lecture on freedom and love.
But wait, there's more.
The above mentioned babe-of-the-week has never been seen before, and after this episode will never be seen again. It's like, "who the fuck is this yeoman chick and why is she here?" It appears that her only purpose, in classic 1960s sexist style, is to sex things up a bit. In addition to her make out session with Chekov, there is an agonizing moment when she tries to talk about the sexual behavior of the planet's inhabitants, but can't bring herself to use the word "sex." Meanwhile, Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Chekov, and the last surviving security guard leer at her, lasciviously relishing her discomfort. So she's a sex toy, right? But then she kicks some alien ass a couple of scenes later. Right out of James Bond; you've just got to love the irrationalities of the 60s.
But without argument, the worst feature of "The Apple" is its aliens. They're just fucking stupid. I mean, they look stupid. They talk stupid. They do stupid things. Sure, the writers are obviously trying to establish the whole Adam and Eve, destruction of innocence, apple and snake in the Garden of Eden thing, but they fail miserably. Akuta's crying after being subdued by Kirk and Spock isn't sympathetic in any way; all it does is breed viewer contempt. You want to beat him up, too. And the alien dialogue is beyond insipid:
"All the world knows about Vaal."The aliens giggle. Constantly. They perform a stupid worship ritual to some recycled music from "Amok Time." They kiss, while romantic music swells in the background, after watching Chekov and babe-of-the-week making out. They're just awful. As bad as the worst aliens ever produced by Star Trek: The Next Generation. Even worse, perhaps.
"Love? What is love? Ah yes, the holding, the touching. Vaal has forbidden this."
But what the fuck. It's just a TV show. Check it out.
The stupidest aliens ever?
Posted by Ron at 10:38 PM
SONIC YOUTH'S "SUPERSTAR": THE GREATEST COVER EVER?
From NPR's Fresh Air, an interview with Richard Carpenter, who, with his sister Karen, scored a big hit with "Superstar" back in the early 70s:
GROSS: Okay, I'm going to make a confession to you here, okay? I used to think that you guys were really corny, and it took me a while to really like hear what was so good about, you know, the melodies, the arrangements, her singing. I mean, so it took me around to come around. I'll confess. But, so do you know the Sonic Youth version which was also referred to in the movie "Juno?"
Mr. CARPENTER: Yes I do.
GROSS: What'd you think of it?
Mr. CARPENTER: I don't like it.
GROSS: Why don't you like it?
Mr. CARPENTER: Why would I like it?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. CARPENTER: No.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. CARPENTER: At least when it comes to something like this, I will say I don't care for it but I don't understand it. So, I'm not going to say it's good or it's bad. I'm just going to say I don't care for it.
Read or listen to the rest here.
Earlier tonight at work somebody, after hearing me singing in the kitchen, suggested that we do some karaoke together in the future. I told him okay, but I do one song, and only one song, for karaoke, the Carpenters' version of "Superstar." I think that might have weirded him out a bit, which reminded me of the interview excerpted above. Suddenly I knew I had my post for tonight.
I've been a Carpenters fan since I was a kid, so when I heard the interview's promo during an installment of All Things Considered one afternoon last November, I had to check it out. It was interesting, of course, but the only thing I really remember from it today is that Richard Carpenter claims to not understand Sonic Youth's cover of the song he had a hit with forty years ago. Not liking it I can comprehend. But not understanding it? Okay, that's a bit weird. I mean, I understood it immediately.
I've been meaning to get into Sonic Youth for many many years, but I just never seem to have gotten round to it. Maybe now is the time. Their marvelous take on the much covered song stands in stark contrast to the famous version recorded by Richard and Karen. The Carpenters' rendition is straightforward and sad, very much from the perspective of the song's lyric voice, very much in the lost love tradition. Sonic Youth's version, however, amounts to commentary on the lyrics, and the media drenched culture in which we live today. That is, the notion of falling in love with a rock star, pining away for him for years, perhaps even stalking him, is downright creepy.
No, seriously. Check out the lyrics:
Long ago and oh so far away
I fell in love with you before the second show
Your guitar, it sounds so sweet and clear
But you're not really here
It's just the radio
Don't you remember you told me you loved me baby
You said you'd be coming back this way again baby
Baby, baby, baby, baby, oh, baby, I love you I really do
Loneliness is a such a sad affair
And I can hardly wait to be with you again
What to say to make you come again
Come back to me again
And play your sad guitar
Don't you remember you told me you loved me baby
You said you'd be coming back this way again baby
Baby, baby, baby, baby, oh, baby, I love you I really do
The Carpenters' emphasize what an asshole the rock star is for abandoning a girl who's too nice and innocent to be a groupie; Sonic Youth makes the girl out to be a celebrity obsessed lunatic. What's not to understand? It's pretty clear to me. Just listen to the two side by side.
Here's the Carpenters doing it:
Now check out the Sonic Youth version:
I'm sure you get the idea. Sonic Youth's "Superstar," with its brilliant recasting of the central protagonist as a crazy woman, becomes an anti-pop culture screed, ripping open the vile underbelly of America's fixation on, as well as media corporations' aggressive marketing of, the notion of stardom. I know that the mass media and its relationship with the masses have changed a great deal since Richard Carpenter recorded the song back in 1971, but it's not as though he's frozen in time. He lives in the same world that Sonic Youth and all of us do, the world of 2010.
How can he not understand Sonic Youth's take on "Superstar"?
Posted by Ron at 12:12 AM
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Fear Strikes Out
My favorite Nobel Prize winning economist, Paul Krugman of the New York Times, on Republican fear mongering as a political tactic:
And on the other side, here’s what Newt Gingrich, the Republican former speaker of the House — a man celebrated by many in his party as an intellectual leader — had to say: If Democrats pass health reform, “They will have destroyed their party much as Lyndon Johnson shattered the Democratic Party for 40 years” by passing civil rights legislation.
I’d argue that Mr. Gingrich is wrong about that: proposals to guarantee health insurance are often controversial before they go into effect — Ronald Reagan famously argued that Medicare would mean the end of American freedom — but always popular once enacted.
But that’s not the point I want to make today. Instead, I want you to consider the contrast: on one side, the closing argument was an appeal to our better angels, urging politicians to do what is right, even if it hurts their careers; on the other side, callous cynicism. Think about what it means to condemn health reform by comparing it to the Civil Rights Act. Who in modern America would say that L.B.J. did the wrong thing by pushing for racial equality? (Actually, we know who: the people at the Tea Party protest who hurled racial epithets at Democratic members of Congress on the eve of the vote.)
And that cynicism has been the hallmark of the whole campaign against reform.
Krugman is talking about the conservative drive against health care reform, but his remarks could just as easily be used to describe Republican political strategy for the last forty two years, the entire span of my life.
Indeed, Richard Nixon ran for President in 1968 on a "law and order" platform, fanning the flames of white fear of the civil rights movement and anti-war activism. In 1980, Reagan elevated the decaying and militarily inferior Soviet Union to the status of "evil empire." He also prodded racist white indignation toward affirmative action and other civil rights programs by inventing the largely fictional, and totally black, "welfare queen." And let's not forget the "War on Drugs," and all the (black) crack babies who were going to grow up and slit our throats, which never did happen. George W. Bush went nuts on Islamic terrorism, ushering in an era of blatant anti-Muslim bigotry, even though the vast majority of Americans are more likely to die from a lightning strike than from terrorist violence.
This has been the basic right-wing political strategy for four decades: invent or greatly exaggerate a threat to the nation of some sort, usually with a racist tinge, call out Democrats for being weak in the face of that threat, and appoint themselves as the only serious national protectors on the block. It doesn't always work, but, like the Texas Longhorns using the triple option back in the 1960s, it has an extraordinarily high success rate--really, all the Republicans have to do is spook just enough of the electorate such that their enormous campaign cash advantage, which they've enjoyed over the years as the ostensible party of business, is able to do the rest.
But President Obama, and his allies in Congress, have just shown the effective counter to Republican fear mongering as a political strategy: don't cave in. Stick with your message. Fight back. It's really that simple.
The triple option continues to be an effective play in college football forty years after Texas used it to win a couple of national championships. But most schools don't use it anymore because smart coaches figured out how to counter the play: recognize the play as it develops and neutralize the options. Simple. But you've got to have smart players working together as a team to pull it off.
Historically, the Democrats haven't been too good with teamwork. But they've got a smart coach right now. Maybe this is their year...
Posted by Ron at 2:22 AM
Monday, March 22, 2010
House passes health care bill
From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:
Summoned to success by President Barack Obama, the Democratic-controlled Congress approved historic legislation Sunday night extending health care to tens of millions of uninsured Americans and cracking down on insurance company abuses, a climactic chapter in the century-long quest for near universal coverage.
“This is what change looks like,” Obama said a few moments later in televised remarks that stirred memories of his 2008 campaign promise of “change we can believe in.”
Widely viewed as dead two months ago, the Senate-passed bill cleared the House on a 219-212 vote. Republicans were unanimous in opposition, joined by 34 dissident Democrats.
For the first time, most Americans would be required to purchase insurance, and face penalties if they refused. Much of the money in the bill would be devoted to subsidies to help families at incomes of up to $88,000 a year pay their premiums.
The measure would also usher in a significant expansion of Medicaid, the federal-state health care program for the poor. Coverage would be required for incomes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level, $29,327 a year for a family of four. Childless adults would be covered for the first time, starting in 2014.
The insurance industry, which spent millions on advertising trying to block the bill, would come under new federal regulation. They would be forbidden from placing lifetime dollar limits on policies, from denying coverage to children because of pre-existing conditions and from canceling policies when a policyholder becomes ill.
Parents would be able to keep children up to age 26 on their family insurance plans, three years longer than is now the case.
A new high-risk pool would offer coverage to uninsured people with medical problems until 2014, when the coverage expansion would go into high gear.
This really is historic.
Health care reform has been shot down for decades every time it's been proposed. But more significantly, anti-reform power, which could have been used to shoot it down again, is much stronger than it has been in the past. Gotta give the President credit for sidelining much of that power months ago when he brought in the insurance industry and cut some deals. What a chess player.
Of course, the President's gotta take the blame, too, for cutting those deals. The national requirement to purchase insurance is the gift he offered the industry in exchange for accepting stronger regulation. Sure, pre-existing conditions, losing coverage when you get AIDS or cancer, and more evil weird shit, all that's gone now, and good riddance. But we're gonna pay for it. Now that everybody has to buy insurance, the industry is going to have an influx of hundreds of billions, and a lot of that will be tax dollars in the form of new subsidies. And this new law contains no cost controls on premiums. The so-called "public option," a government owned and operated health insurance plan, would have forced the industry to play fairly by way of the conservatives' favorite economic concept, good old fashioned market competition. But Obama gave all that away. The groundwork has now been laid for the health insurance industry to get fat at the trough called America.
I'm betting that premiums will skyrocket in the coming years, forcing yet another crisis, or rather, continuing the old one in a new way.
Really, the only way to go, in the long run, is to illegalize health insurance altogether, and go for the single payer plan they use in Canada and other civilized countries. I bet we'll have to be just about bankrupt, as a nation, before we start to consider such "socialism."
But still. This really is an enormous leap forward. Real people, many of them desperate, will get real help from this. I mean, it's all fucked up, too, but much much better than the current state of affairs. Further, passing this legislation, as pockmarked and pus-oozing as it is, makes further reform less unthinkable. That is, now that the cat's out of the bag, in terms of government meddling in the health care business, it's going to be easier to do some more meddling.
But what I like most about this is the cacophony of right-wing indignant squeals we're going to be hearing for the next few weeks. After eight years of Bush, after eight years before that of incessant Clinton bashing, which in retrospect is really weird because old Bill really was pretty conservative himself, and after the twelve years before that of Reagan/Bush, it's really fucking grand to take the outstretched middle finger of America and shove it hard right on the bridge of conservatives' collective nose:
FUCK YOU CONSERVATIVES, THEY JUST PASSED HEALTH CARE REFORM!!! HA!!!
Posted by Ron at 1:33 AM
Sunday, March 21, 2010
Scientists discover an alcohol with a quicker path to sobriety
From the Houston Chronicle blog Sci Guy:
Korean scientists have discovered that increasing the level of dissolved oxygen from 8 parts per million to 25 parts per million in alcohol increases the rate at which the blood alcohol content drops in those who drink.
It took about five hours for alcohol levels to reach zero, but the process was 27 minutes faster in those who drank alcohol with the highest concentration of oxygen.
Now this definitely reminds me of something. Nagging at the back of my brain. What could it be? What could it be? Oh yes, of course, how could I have forgotten?
From Memory Alpha, the Star Trek Wiki:
Synthehol (a portmanteau of "synthesized" and "alcohol") is a chemical variant of alcohol. It appears to have the same taste and smell as "real" alcohol to most individuals, but none of the deleterious effects associated with alcohol for most humanoids, such as debilitating intoxication, addiction, and alcohol poisoning. Most humanoids have an enzyme which breaks down the alcohol-like compounds in synthehol. According to Data, synthehol's "intoxicating effects can be easily dismissed".
That's right. It reminds me of the Star Trek universe's synthehol. I mean, it really only reminds me of synthehol. The stuff they're experimenting with in Korea sounds like it can still get you as drunk as a skunk, and even though one sobers up more quickly, a half hour doesn't really strike me as being that big of a deal--I've gotten the sense that with synthehol, one can literally splash the face with water and be ready to drive into a crowd of bystanders without hitting anybody. Nonetheless, this new booze is promising. It would be nice, indeed, if they're eventually able to do better than the above mentioned thirty minute difference, to get blasted at a bar, but be sober by bedtime.
More generally, this is yet another reminder that science fiction concepts continue to become reality. In my life I've gotten to see several Star Trek ideas, such as widespread computer use, automatic doors with motion sensors, and communicators, that is, cell phones, move from absolute fiction to concrete reality. What's next? Matter teleportation? Faster than light travel? Holodecks? Sentient computers?
My bet's on the last one. Self-aware computers. Of course, they'll want to take over the world, and, as the Terminator films and Battlestar Galactica have shown us, we don't really want that to happen.
But I just don't see how we can stop it. So, I, for one, welcome our new cyber-overlords.
Posted by Ron at 1:41 AM
Friday, March 19, 2010
Fox News disgraces itself with “disrespectful” Obama interview
Let’s just put aside that this is the President of the United States. As a journalist you wouldn’t treat homeless people this way. You would give even an accused killer the courtesy of finishing his sentence. This “news” agency lacks even the simplest of journalism ethics. They refuse to give the president even the most basic of human courtesies.
Why? Simply to create this narrative in which Obama must defend himself. If he defends himself, then he must be guilty? Right? If he defends himself, that then sets them up to say “why so defensive?” Right?
That’s the Fox game, prove the negative, don’t bother with facts or real reporting, just attack.
More here, including a link to video of the interview on YouTube.
Personally, I don't really favor the point of view that says we need to be particularly respectful to our leaders simply because they're our leaders. I mean, this is a democratic republic, and our leaders have a great deal for which to account simply because of the kind of government we have chosen. It goes with the territory. Indeed, it's our patriotic obligation to call these motherfuckers out on a regular basis. From all parts of the political spectrum.
But having said that, the excerpt above makes a really good point. There's no need to be an asshole for its own sake. Our leaders, no matter how fucked in the head or evil they may be, deserve, at least, a modicum of civility. For that matter, how is it possible to even get a meaningful exchange of ideas if you're being a big dick? If you're talking over your opponent, cutting him off, sneering and whatnot, it's not really a discussion, not really a debate, and certainly not an interview.
So yeah, this FOX News "interview" of President Obama was pretty fucked up.
Nonetheless, I've gotta tip my hat to ol' Barack. He handled himself brilliantly, walking into the lion's den and all, agreeing to play by their rules, and coming out smelling like a rose. I heard some pundit on MSNBC last night speculating that the President was using the opportunity to show his pussy-party how to take on the right wing and win.
Sometimes I really do think the guy's Superman.
Posted by Ron at 12:24 AM
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
"The Changeling" is a season two episode of Star Trek: The Original Series, first broadcast on September 29, 1967 and repeated May 17, 1968. It is episode #32, production #37 and was written by John Meredyth Lucas, and directed by Marc Daniels.
The crew of the USS Enterprise deals with an indestructible planet-destroying space probe. The plot contains obvious similarities to the later 1979 Star Trek Movie. This episode is one of only a handful in the original series that take place entirely aboard the Enterprise. The others include "Journey to Babel", "The Ultimate Computer", "Charlie X", "Elaan of Troyius", "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield", and "Is There in Truth No Beauty?".
It's not so much that this is a bad episode as that it's not a particularly good episode. I mean, it's well anchored by a damned fine idea: an old Earth unmanned exploration vehicle lost in space returns decades later as a super brilliant computer that wants to destroy its home planet. Unfortunately, Star Trek: The Motion Picture handles the idea much better, which is something I never thought I'd hear myself say. Yeah, last night's viewing didn't hold up too well for me.
This is not to say that there's nothing redeeming about "The Changeling." Like I said, it's not bad. We hear Uhura singing, always welcome, for the first time in the second season, which is coupled with a downright creepy and cool scene sequence where Nomad, the deranged space computer, silently follows her beautiful voice to the bridge so that he can wipe her mind of all knowledge. Shortly thereafter is another cool visual moment, a shot of Doctor McCoy leading Nomad to sickbay; the camera is about waist high, looking up at the Doctor, which gives a weird and menacing look to the proceedings. There's also a really beautiful exterior shot of the Enterprise, from overhead, showing the pulsing lights of the warp nacelles. There are some good lines and exchanges. Scotty says, "That mechanical beastie is up here!" McCoy manages to get in his trademark "He's dead, Jim," after Nomad has seemingly killed Scotty. Spock says to Kirk after his commander has defeated the space probe, "Your logic was impeccable, Captain, we are in grave danger." We see four red shirted security guards disintegrated by Nomad. And there are some solid performances. Scotty is particularly good, as is McCoy. Same with Spock and Uhura.
Kirk, on the other hand, as with his lackluster performance in "City on the Edge of Forever," phones his lines in. This is a particular drag because he defeats Nomad with his classic logic gambit. You know, the way he defeated Landru in "Return of the Archons," setting up a logical paradox that the computer brain can't process, which results in self-destruction. In "Archons" Kirk valiantly struggles to figure out how to defeat his opponent: in "The Changeling" he descends into self-parody; the scene is almost comedic because you already know what the outcome is going to be from the moment the Captain first starts to hint at the contradiction that will be Nomad's undoing--Kirk's near smirk doesn't help make the moment any more serious. Nomad's malfunctioning voice, too, is cartoonish, and worthy of ridicule.
I mean okay, like I've said many times before, if you're an old school Star Trek fan, you've got to be ready to laugh at unintentional comedy. But overall "The Changeling" works well enough that you don't want it to be funny. You want it to succeed, but, unfortunately, it doesn't quite pull it off.
There are other nagging moments.
Spock's mind meld with Nomad starts off well enough, alien and weird, as the first officer chants the name of Nomad's "other," Tan Ru, while Spock's Theme from "Amok Time" is revisited by the background music. Good solid Trek. But the scene takes a turn for the stupid when Nomad's psyche overwhelms the Vulcan, and Kirk has to break the meld in order to save Spock from certain brain trauma. That sounds a lot better than it plays on the screen. Kirk's overacting here is wildly insincere, and Spock just looks dumb reciting "Tan Ru" endlessly.
There is yet another dose of 1960s sexism sabotaging the show's futuristic verisimilitude:
Spock: That unit is a woman.And I know that Star Trek broke all kinds of ground in terms of television racial stereotyping by portraying a black woman as a bridge officer in the future, but the scene where the white Nurse Chapel attempts to reeducate Uhura after Nomad has robbed her of her intellect just hurts to watch. Chapel chides the black officer for speaking in Swahili, a language that's actually pretty cool to hear on Star Trek, which is followed by the gruesome sight of a Southern white man, Doctor McCoy, and Chapel laughing at the now stupid African Uhura trying to phonetically sound out the English word "blue." I know that overall Star Trek's heart was in the right place. But it was still a product of its times.
Nomad: A mass of conflicting impulses.
But what the hell. Watch it anyway. It's still Star Trek, after all.
"I was singing."
Posted by Ron at 11:40 PM
From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:
Holder: Osama bin Laden will never face U.S. trial
The comparison to convicted killer Manson angered Rep. John Culberson, R-Texas, who said it showed the Obama administration doesn't understand the American public's desire to treat terrorists as wartime enemies, not criminal defendants.
“My constituents and I just have a deep-seated and profound philosophical difference with the Obama administration,” Culberson said.
Holder, his voice rising, charged that Culberson's arguments ignored basic facts about the law and the fight against terrorists.
“Let's deal with reality,” Holder said. Bin Laden “will never appear in an American courtroom.”
Pressed further on that point, Holder said: “The possibility of catching him alive is infinitesimal. He will be killed by us or he will be killed by his own people so he can't be captured by us.”
If I understand that correctly, the US Attorney General just issued a death warrant. I didn't know he, or any other US official for that matter, excluding maybe judges after a conviction, had that power. Actually, he doesn't have that power. The Constitution clearly states that nobody can be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. That is, Americans, unlike radical Muslim extremists, don't issue death fatwas.
This pretty much encapsulates the madness that has gripped our culture in the years since 9/11. Even though Americans are far more likely to die from a lightning strike than by the work of terrorists, our fear has caused us to act irrationally, again and again, abandoning what makes our nation unique in the world, trashing liberty and inalienable rights, all in order to live out a Hollywood revenge fantasy. We torture now. We listen to people's phone calls and read their emails. We invade whatever sovereign nation we want, for whatever reason we feel like. We deny criminals, and the public on which they have preyed, their day in court. Democrat, Republican, it doesn't matter. It is as though this nation, or at least everybody who attempts to speak on its behalf, collectively decided on September 12, 2001, to renounce everything for which America once stood.
This is not the nation I understood it to be for the first thirty two years of my life.
Personally, I think it's psychotic to keep terrorists out of the courts. The right wing has done its usual crackerjack propaganda job of making the trial process out to be a kind of social welfare for violent extremists. To be fair, all defendants in US courts have rights, which is how it must be if the process is to have any credibility at all. But conservatives have painted this concept as somehow anti-American: "They're terrorists; why should we coddle them with rights?!?" I mean, they've even blasted the DoJ for hiring lawyers who have represented Gitmo detainees. What these fear-mongering idiots don't get is that trials are as much for victims and the public at large as they are for criminals, and I say "criminals" because terrorists don't belong to any nation's army. Terrorists are not soldiers; they are murderers. Convicting murderers in a fair and impartial trial is a triumph for civilization, as well as a massive philosophical strike against the barbaric lawlessness and anarchy these terrorists represent.
Murdering them, however, does nothing but validate their point of view.
I credit Eric Holder for observing that these anti-American conservatives don't know what the fuck they're talking about, but he's as lame as all get out for trying to calm them by issuing what amounts to a death fatwa for bin Laden. That is, he might as well be arguing their point for them.
These are fucked up times.
Posted by Ron at 1:21 AM
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Noam Chomsky on Obama’s Foreign Policy,
His Own History of Activism,
and the Importance of Speaking Out
From Democracy Now:
NOAM CHOMSKY: And the threat of force is not just idle. So, for example, Israel is sending its nuclear submarines into the Gulf, firing distance—they’re undetectable, basically—into areas where they could fire nuclear missiles—of course, Israel has plenty of nuclear weapons—fire them at Iran. The US and others are—its allies are carrying out field operations, you know, the exercises, plainly aimed at Iran. And there’s a little hitch, because Turkey is refusing to go along, but that’s what they’ve been trying to do. So there are regular threats, verbal and in policy. Israel actually is sending the nuclear submarines and other warships through the Suez Canal, with the tacit agreement of Egypt, the Egyptian dictatorship, another US client in the region. Well, those are all threats—constant, verbal, actual.
And the threats do have the effect of inducing Iran to develop a deterrent. Whether they’re doing it or not, I don’t know. Maybe they are. But if they are, the reason, as I think almost all serious analysts would agree, is not because they intend to use nuclear weapons and missiles with nuclear weapons. If they even loaded a missile was nuclear weapons, assuming they had them, the country would be vaporized in five minutes. And nobody believes that the ruling clerics, whatever one thinks about them, have a kind of a death wish and want to see the entire country and society and everything they own destroyed. In fact, US intelligence figures pretty high, who have talked about it, estimate the possibility of Iran ever actually using a nuclear weapon is maybe one percent, you know, so low that you can’t estimate it. But it’s possible that they develop them as a deterrent.
One of Israel’s leading military historians, Martin van Creveld, a couple of years ago, after the invasion of Iraq, wrote in the international press that of course he doesn’t want to see Iran have nuclear weapons, he said, but if they’re not developing them, they’re crazy. The US had just invaded Iraq, knowing that it was totally defenseless. It was part of the reason why they felt free to invade. Everybody can understand that. The Iranian leaders could certainly understand it. So, therefore, to quote van Creveld again, “if they’re not developing a nuclear deterrent, they’re crazy.”
Click here to watch, read, or listen to the rest.
So here in the US, the discourse about Iran is something along the lines of, "They're crazy Muslims, and the worst possible thing that could happen is their getting nuclear weapons; we just can't let it happen, just can't let it happen!" Rarely mentioned is Israel's formidable nuclear arsenal, and when it is mentioned, it is never observed that these missiles are literally aimed at Iran, never associated with Iran's desire to arm itself. Also rarely mentioned is the US invasion of Iraq, right next door to Iran, on obviously false pretenses, as a motivation for Iran's nuclear weapons program. Indeed, from an Iranian perspective, their leaders should be thrown out of office if they don't pursue a nuclear option. Iran isn't crazy; they're simply in pursuit of very rational self-interest.
Actually, what's crazy is American discussion on the Middle East. Frankly, I just didn't understand it until I started reading Chomsky. And that's his great strength as a dissident writer. He reports what's downplayed by the establishment, and, with simple logic and indefatigable documentation, shreds the conventional wisdom.
Indeed, much of my writing here at Real Art, and the way I think about things more generally, owe a lot to Chomsky. If I had to quickly describe his style of analysis, I'd reference Hans Christian Anderson's short story "The Emperor's New Clothes." Chomsky is the kid willing to point out the obvious, in spite of what everyone else thinks, that the Emperor's new suit not only isn't invisible, but rather, it doesn't even exist. Of course, this has earned him a great deal of scorn and derision in the mainstream. That is, when the mainstream pays any attention to him at all. His arguments, in their simplicity, are extraordinarily solid, really difficult to attack without first admitting a great many inconvenient truths. It's easier simply to ignore him, which is what establishment voices and thinkers usually do.
At any rate, go check out the interview and pay close attention to how he approaches the issues. It's not really so much that it's true because Chomsky says it's true: it's how he sidesteps the myths and propaganda, what we're supposed to think about the way the world works, and proceeds to examine the way things actually are.
Everyone, the whole world even, would be much better off if we all learned a thing or two about how Chomsky analyzes issues. You, too.
Posted by Ron at 12:48 AM
Monday, March 15, 2010
How The Texas Textbook Revision Came To Be
From Huffington Post:
In Texas, Thomas Jefferson is set to be removed from the textbook standards explaining how Enlightenment thinkers have influenced revolutions since 1750. Replacing him will be the French theologian John Calvin.
After a long and emotionally-charged debate, the Texas Board of Education -- dominated by a group of conservatives -- voted last week to make this and a host of other changes to the state curriculum, a move that has wide-ranging implications for students across the country.
A discussion over gender roles was even more puzzling. The current curriculum asks students to examine how the traditional roles of men and women had changed since the 1950's. But the seven staunch conservatives on the board said they feared the text would promote trans-sexualism and sex change operations.
"They take everything to the extreme," Berlanga said. "They don't trust the teachers, they don't trust the school districts. It has to be their way or the highway."
One amendment required students to learn about the "unintended consequences" of the Great Society, affirmative action, and Title IX programs, and another replaced references to "democratic societies" to references to "republican societies."
Huerta was not the only prominent Hispanic left out of the curriculum. Santa Barraza, a Mexican-American painter and teacher whose family is from Texas, was removed after a board member found a painting of hers "questionable." She was replaced by Tex Avery, a Texas-born animator famous for creating well-known cartoon characters like Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck.
In a sign of how sweeping the changes were, hip hop music was removed as a cultural influence, and the Civil Rights movement was glossed over.
Believe it or not, I don't really have much to say about this. Indeed, while concerned, I'm not particularly worried. Longtime Real Art readers know that I believe that American schools are already profoundly indoctrinational in nature. And this kind of pre-existing indoctrination is far, far more effective than anything lunatic conservatives in Texas are capable of concocting for the state's social studies textbook standards. Generally, the US social studies curriculum is bullshit, anyway, glorifying the nation while downplaying its many failures in such a way that puts most students to sleep: these changes in Texas probably won't do much more than cause deeper sleep. I mean, at best, making social studies coursework reflect the Conservative Movement's bizarre mythology will make Texas kids have more contempt for school than they have now, but, at worst, nothing will change at all. No news is good news. Just another boring piece of shit class to suffer through.
On the other hand, it's hard not to be shocked and amazed by how fucked up these people are.
Posted by Ron at 2:14 AM
Saturday, March 13, 2010
USA: NATION OF CORRUPTION
From Time Magazine courtesy of Eschaton:
The Twilight of the Elites
In the past decade, nearly every pillar institution in American society — whether it's General Motors, Congress, Wall Street, Major League Baseball, the Catholic Church or the mainstream media — has revealed itself to be corrupt, incompetent or both. And at the root of these failures are the people who run these institutions, the bright and industrious minds who occupy the commanding heights of our meritocratic order. In exchange for their power, status and remuneration, they are supposed to make sure everything operates smoothly. But after a cascade of scandals and catastrophes, that implicit social contract lies in ruins, replaced by mass skepticism, contempt and disillusionment.
In the wake of the implosion of nearly all sources of American authority, this new decade will have to be about reforming our institutions to reconstitute a more reliable and democratic form of authority. Scholarly research shows a firm correlation between strong institutions, accountable élites and highly functional economies; mistrust and corruption, meanwhile, feed each other in a vicious circle. If our current crisis continues, we risk a long, ugly process of de-development: higher levels of corruption and tax evasion and an increasingly fractured public sphere, in which both public consensus and reform become all but impossible.
The essay goes on to assert that the way out of this mess is a strong dose of institutional transparency, so we can all see just what the hell is going on within the power structure, combined with an end to top-down institutional authority, such that better and more diverse ideas are able to trickle up to the people with the ability to act on them. You'll get no argument with me on that. Great reforms, if they can actually be pulled off. But I think distrust of institutions, as well as their catastrophic failures this last decade or so, is only a symptom of a much greater cultural problem.
That is, pro-capitalist messages have literally bombarded Americans for some three decades, and we're now paying the price as those messages have become embedded in the culture. I'm not talking about stuff like "business is good" which is obviously true on its face: I mean the stuff that makes morally acceptable the funneling of the vast majority of wealth created by the nation to a relative few who hold the reins of power, the stuff that encourages people to spend and acquire without restraint, the stuff that tells us that life is competition and we're fools if we don't try to win. You know, capitalism as a kind of morality tale, rather than capitalism as an economic system.
Capitalists have always propagandized their actions as good and necessary because people instinctively understand that in order for capitalism to function, the masses must necessarily be exploited. Think nineteenth century "social Darwinism" and you'll get my drift. But it wasn't until the Reagan era that such propaganda was put on steroids. Rank and file Americans now days believe that their fortunes lie with the vastly wealthy elites who literally own and run the country, even though the truth is the exact opposite. The net effect is that we now have a Robber Barron mentality prevalent throughout the country, cutting across race and class lines, from the top to the bottom.
That is, we now have enough people who believe and behave like the rich assholes who pushed the whole philosophy in the first place that the civil society is crumbling at its foundation. Institutional transparency and democratization is a damned fine idea, but it won't work if everybody is out for themselves and nobody else. Somehow, we've got to find a way to unravel the philosophical pollution that is now choking the life out of our country.
That's going to be hard to do when most people don't even acknowledge the problem.
Posted by Ron at 10:04 PM
Friday, March 12, 2010
Miss. school prom off after lesbian's date request
From the AP via the Washington Post courtesy of Eschaton:
The American Civil Liberties Union had demanded that the Itawamba County school district allow senior Constance McMillen to attend with her girlfriend. A school district policy requires that dates be of the opposite sex.
A school board statement Wednesday announced the district wouldn't host the April prom. The district's statement didn't mention McMillen's request but did refer to unspecified recent "distractions."
A bit more here.
Homophobic schools have been pulling this stunt since at least the mid 90s. Back then, it was gay/straight alliance clubs. Kids would try to get one going and school officials would refuse. Some of these kids enlisted legal aid, and, threatened by lawsuits, officials essentially destroyed the village in order to save it: they banned all clubs to keep the gays out. And not only did such a move keep the gays out, it had the added benefit, for homophobic administrators, of turning rank-and-file students against their gay classmates for getting all clubs shut down--the young lesbian in the above linked article expects the very same thing to happen to her.
Of course, this is total bigoted bullshit, fully illustrating how utterly irrational homophobes are. I mean, big fucking deal if a lesbian couple attends prom, right? But because it looked like the big bad communist fag-loving ACLU was going to get involved, the school went for the nuclear option, which is just nuts.
But the times they are a changin'. I see far fewer of these stories today than I did a decade ago. Meanwhile, the gay marriage movement continues to post success after success. It is telling that this prom ban is taking place at a school in Mississippi, historically the most prejudiced state in the union. I'm thinking that when I'm in my 70s, this shit will be safely stuck in the past.
Posted by Ron at 12:20 AM
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Wolf in the Fold
"Wolf in the Fold" is a second-season episode of Star Trek: The Original Series. It is episode #43, production #36, and was broadcast on December 22, 1967. It was written by Robert Bloch, and directed by Joseph Pevney.
Overview: A series of bizarre murders points to Mr. Scott as the prime suspect.
After the last two episodes, "Amok Time" and "The Doomsday Machine," one might be tempted to describe "Wolf in the Fold" as something of a letdown. In all fair criticism, this one just doesn't live up to the standard set by those two. But it is not a letdown. "Wolf in the Fold" is good solid Star Trek, teaming the same writer and director who made "Catspaw" worth watching. Indeed, teleplay writer Robert Bloch, who penned the book on which Alfred Hitchcock's film Psycho is based, is totally at home with this one, a knife wielding slasher story. And it's a Scotty episode. Everybody loves Scotty, right?
"Wolf in the Fold" opens with a belly dancer gyrating to the music used during a similar scene in "The Menagerie." And the woman here is just as sexually alluring as Susan Oliver was in her green Orion slave girl makeup. The dance continues for what seems to be, for a Star Trek teaser, an extraordinarily long time, but that's okay because it's all about setting the mood. As the camera pulls away from the dancer, we see a mis en scene which strongly suggests a sort of Arabic culture, with a Middle Eastern band jamming away, while Kirk, McCoy, and Scotty watch transfixed. But this isn't a Muslim planet: Bones explains to Kirk that the people of Argellius live in "a completely hedonistic society." This was supposed the be the emotional remedy for Mr. Scott's recently developed "total resentment toward women" resulting from an accident on the Enterprise, caused by a woman, which gave him a concussion. Instead of curing the Chief Engineer's futuristic 1960s style sexism, the belly dancer is dead by the end of the scene, seemingly stabbed brutally by Scotty.
So right away, we know what this episode's going to be, exotic, sexual, and violent. And it doesn't disappoint. Indeed, the first three scenes all end with the image of a dead sexy woman, covered in stab wounds, with an amnesiac Mr. Scott nearby. As they did with "Catspaw," Bloch and Pevney establish a story with mood and imagery that necessarily make viewers ask that vital dramatic question, "what's going to happen next?"
On the other hand, "Wolf in the Fold," again and again, flirts with science fiction goofiness that threatens to quash viewer interest. I mean, handled a bit differently, this could be one of dozens of mediocre Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes, but probably with Acting Ensign Crusher in the lead instead of Mr. Scott. Fortunately, the episode never quite crosses the threshold of off-putting silliness, and all the overacting and improbable plot elements end up actually enhancing the exoticism established in the teaser.
Really, given the context, all that overacting is great fun. The belly dancer's grieving father, also one of the musicians from the opening scene, angrily accuses anybody he can. In his bizarre Bedouin clothing declaiming his lines like a 19th century Shakespearean, he's a throwback to the exotic Hollywood films of the 30s and 40s, like Casablanca or Morocco. And even Sulu deposits a weird moment. Right after McCoy shoots him up with the Federation equivalent of goof balls, he offers in a sing-song voice right out of Reefer Madness:
"Whoever he is, he sure talks gloomy...with an armful of this stuff I wouldn't be afraid of a supernova. Hee hee."Even Kirk gets big, especially during the lie detector scene, but that's how he usually is, anyway, and it works well here. Spock, as usual during the second season, is great, which kind of creates another flaw in the episode: there's just not enough screen time for him. McCoy is solid. And Scotty, to whom the episode belongs, turns in a fine performance, addle-brained and confused, emotionally tortured by the knowledge that he might have murdered three women.
But like "The Doomsday Machine" last week, the best acting in the episode comes from a guest star, veteran character actor John Fiedler as the outsourced Argellian homicide investigator Hengist, who turns out to be the real murderer. Try imagining Winnie the Pooh character Piglet on meth and you'll get the idea. This is no joke; Fiedler was, in fact, the voice of Piglet in Disney's Pooh features for many years. Casting him was a stroke of brilliance, making the episode all the more weird and sinister. The expression on his face when what he is becomes clear to everyone is fan-fucking-tastic.
Something that I never noticed over the decades that I've known this episode is the sense of moral ambiguity inherent in the climax. Kirk and Spock beam the Redjac possessed Hengist out into space, permanently ending the threat he poses. So far so good. But what about Hengist? Isn't he as much of a victim here as anybody else? Okay, he wasn't stabbed to death, but he was possessed by an evil non-corporeal entity that caused him to commit numerous murders. That is, not only is he not guilty by reason of insanity, he also suffered what is essentially a kind of psychic rape. Yet Kirk and Spock coolly scatter his molecules across the galaxy. I mean, it's possible, I suppose, that Hengist is simply the solid matter state of the energy being Redjac, which makes his destruction morally acceptable. But the story never establishes such a notion; indeed, it is far more likely that Hengist is a normal person compelled to commit heinous acts by a force he cannot control.
Don't get me wrong. This isn't a problem to me. I like the moral ambiguity here. I like the possibility that Kirk and Spock off an innocent victim to serve the greater good. I'm just pointing out the situation.
And I would be doing a disservice if I didn't also point out how the episode ends: the crew of the Enterprise is high on drugs, and Kirk laughs about it. God, I love Star Trek!
Go check it out.
"I don't remember."
Posted by Ron at 9:43 PM