Thursday, September 28, 2006

Duck And Cover

I've been busy recently, unfortunately some problems in the "real" world have distracted me from blogging. Nothing serious, I'm not going to die, but when one lives with others, especially ones family, one must deal with their issues first.

No pun intended, but today's YouTube Video is Duck and Cover, that's right, the 1950's civil defense classic, often imitated, never equaled. Know what to do kids in the event of Global Thermonuclear War, watch this video!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Marching in the vanguard of the Republican Revolution

School's back in session, and that, of course, means that the Mendota Beacon is once again marching in the vanguard of the Party, staunchly defending all that is right and good in the world.

I really wouldn't even mention this, except that I was on campus the other day and picked up a copy, and was almost excited by one of the articles. Because the Beacon is the Beacon, I cannot link you directly to the story in question (although here is a .pdf version - the story I'm talking about is on the top of page 4), but it really isn't important, because I'm more interested in what the story didn't mention.

The article was about the Orthodox Christian Fellowship - a group of students of the Orthodox faith (apparently all branches of Orthodoxy mingle here). Now, anyone who has spent any time in Madison, or at anyone who has seen the Orthodox church out on East Wash, should be expected to have really only one burning question for this particular group: "So, what's it like going to a church that's next to a porn store?"

This pertinent issue is not so much as mentioned.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Gaffe Cult

The BBC has decided, in honor of the ongoing crisis caused by the unfortunate remarks of the Hungarian PM ("We screwed up. Not a little, a lot," Gyurcsany was heard saying. "No European country has done something as boneheaded as we have.") to post an article on other famous political gaffes. I think this takes the cake.

In Britain the Duke of Edinburgh, Queen Elizabeth's husband, is notorious for making jokes that might offend the recipient and make bystanders cringe - many of them based on old-fashioned racial stereotypes.
His comments have included: "It looks as if it was put in by an Indian," when being shown an old-fashioned fuse box; "Still throwing spears?" to an Australian Aborigine; and, to a Scottish driving instructor, "How do you keep the natives off the booze long enough to get them through the test?"

today's YouTube clip is two songs from Cloud Cult, an awesome band that the pundit saw in Madison on 9-15, check them out at their website.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Not the gorilla in the room, but the whale in the square

The film Werckmeister Harmonies is very much worth your time:
Hungarian director Bela Tarr’s Werckmeister Harmonies begins with the image of a flame being doused out. This is significant, because in this political drama, the conflict between light and dark provides much of the thematic fodder. In an astonishing opening scene, the camera smoothly zooms and pans around a dilapidated pub, as János, the film’s hero and an amateur astronomer, uses his drunken compatriots to demonstrate a solar eclipse.

Some reviews (and the Wikipedia entry) will tell you that it is a parable of Fascism - but that is far from true. It's a story of any political philosophy born of fear and anger, in the shadows of bonfires in the public square, of an unwillingness to see the truth that stands before one, of any time and place in which small-mindedness and fear-mongering rumor trump truth. It is also the story of hope betrayed:
János Valuska: You are the sun. The sun doesn't move, this is what it does. You are the Earth. The Earth is here for a start, and then the Earth moves around the sun. And now, we'll have an explanation that simple folks like us can also understand, about immortality. All I ask is that you step with me into the boundlessness, where constancy, quietude and peace, infinite emptiness reign. And just imagine, in this infinite sonorous silence, everywhere is an impenetrable darkness. Here, we only experience general motion, and at first, we don't notice the events that we are witnessing. The brilliant light of the sun always sheds its heat and light on that side of the Earth which is just then turned towards it. And we stand here in it's brilliance. This is the moon. The moon revolves around the Earth. What is happening? We suddenly see that the disc of the moon, the disc of the moon, on the Sun's flaming sphere, makes an indentation, and this indentation, the dark shadow, grows bigger... and bigger. And as it covers more and more, slowly only a narrow crescent of the sun remains, a dazzling crescent. And at the next moment, the next moment - say that it's around one in the afternoon - a most dramatic turn of event occurs. At that moment the air suddenly turns cold. Can you feel it? The sky darkens, then goes all dark. The dogs howl, rabbits hunch down, the deer run in panic, run, stampede in fright. And in this awful, incomprehensible dusk, even the birds... the birds too are confused and go to roost. And then... Complete Silence. Everything that lives is still. Are the hills going to march off? Will heaven fall upon us? Will the Earth open under us? We don't know. We don't know, for a total eclipse has come upon us... But... but no need to fear. It's not over. For across the sun's glowing sphere, slowly, the Moon swims away. And the sun once again bursts forth, and to the Earth slowly there comes again light, and warmth again floods the Earth. Deep emotion pierces everyone. They have escaped the weight of darkness.

Mr. Hagelmayer: That's enough! Out of here, you tubs of beer!

János Valuska: But Mr. Hagelmayer. It's still not over.

The tragedy is that - and I can say this without really spoiling the movie for you, gentle reader - after two and a half hours, it is over for János.

Technical update: on further reading, that first link isn't really the greatest - it does a lot of extrapolating that isn't necessarily justified, and doesn't know enough about Hungarian to be able to tell you that calling people "aunt" or "uncle" generally is less than revelatory regarding family ties. These terms are generally just signs of familiarity.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Ghosts and Machines, 9-11 2006

As I write this, 9-11 2006 is almost over in the central time zone, by the time I post, another anniversary will have passed into our collective memory books and memorial holes.

If you really want to relive what happened, the New Yorker has opened up this article from their archive. Also get the 9-11 Commission Report, in comic book form.

All day long I was thinking about writing one of those "war on terrorism, where are we now?" articles that have been cropping up but decided against it. You can use every History Channel adjective you like: heroic, long, bloody, bizarre, complicated, expensive, divisive, but none of them really captures the scope of events that have unfolded since then.

One interesting response has been Slate's invitation to various cultural figures; What art has helped you make sense of 9-11? I could go on this theme for awhile; instead I'll close with the opening lines of Invisible Sun, written by The Police about "the troubles" in Northern Ireland for the 1981 album Ghost in the Machine.

I don't want to spend the rest of my life
Looking at the barrel of an Armalite
I don't want to spend the rest of my days
Keeping out of trouble like the soldiers say
I don't want to spend my time in hell
Looking at the walls of a prison cell
I don't ever want to play the part
Of a statistic on a government chart

To see video for Invisible Sun, check it out on YouTube.


Last night I was trying to think of what I was going to say today.

Driving to work today, the first thing on the radio was the two morning DJs talking about what they remembered from 5 years ago, followed by a "9/11 tribute" song. I immediately changed the channel - to WSUM, which was emphatically not playing 9/11 tribute music at the time.

Then I began to think again about what to write. After all, the blogosphere is abuzz with remembrance today. Instapundit is swimming in the stuff. So is the Cheddarsphere. So I'm expected to have an opinion. But what to write? Post my memories of the day? Maybe a link round-up - "here's what other, more articulate folks are saying"? Should I play politics with it? "I'm a Republican, so I'm durn sure gon' lissen to that Toby Keith song about puttin' a boot up yer ass! Hoo-ah!" Should I memorialize the soldiers fighting the aftermath of September 11, 2001?

My reaction has been to turn the station today, so to speak. Not because I don't want to remember - but because I don't want to be told how to think.

But if you do want to think, this might make you.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

What's Going On, Above Ground At Least

The NYT reports that the Democrats are continuing to pressure ABC to give up on airing The Path to 9-11. I can't blame them, tactically, after the right-wing blogosphere forced The Reagans off of prime time; I'm sure it struck them as a case of "turn-about is fair play."

As usual, however, the amount of hype this issue has gotten is pretty depressing. With a handful of exceptions, the public square and corridors of power, was preoccupied with other things. From Kosovo, to "Dow 36,000", Y2K, and a certain blue dress, we, the people, had other things on our minds. Could, Clinton have done more in the late 90's, I would say yes, in retrospect. However, I certainly didn't see GW or his advisors playing Paul Revere about the Al Qaeda on the campaign trail in 2000. My impression at the time was that Bush&Co were more worried about the boys in Beijing and Baghdad, if anything, given a Republican foreign-policy space was leaning towards isolationism and away from "Clinton Wars".

None the same, this debate is another depressing comment on the state of our countries political discourse. When every film, every news broadcast, every organization and every activist gets fed into the hype machine of our "for us or against us" political culture, it elevates the loud-mouths and blowhards, the Michael Moores and Ann Coulters, and alienates the rest of us from politics. The Dems, for their sake and ours, would have been better to leave it alone and treat The Path for what it is, a made for TV movie, and let it rest in blissful ignomity.

PS. For some random examples, if you really need any, of loud-mouths, blowhards, and hype, here are a couple YouTube vids: MM on the O'Reilly Factor, and AC on Jeremy Paxman. You have been warned, view at your own risk. . .

Now to chill out, Today's YouTube Pick! A masterful concert performance by Marvin Gaye of What's Going On/What's Happening Brother taken from an out of circulation 1973 film, Save the Children, and cut with evocative vintage footage of inner-city Chicago.

I always feel like somebody's watching me

The Internet has been a crazy place for privacy this past week.

On Sunday night, Facebook underwent a fairly large change, adding a feature called the News Feed. The Feed allowed students to see every change their friends made. The changes were, quite frankly, somewhat frightening. The world of Big Brother relies on keeping the doors to the control room closed - but Facebook had thrown them wide open.

Overawed with the sheer power of Facebook, students freaked out. Certainly, the smarter ones had to have known that such a tool as the News Feed was possible (and the frat boys and sorostitutes wouldn't have thought about it anyway), but when it came down to it, we were content to allow the benevolent dictator to control the information so long as no one else had access to it. When Facebook made the actually quite logical step of throwing open the doors to the control room, as it were, letting students see the same monitors that Facebook staff had used to track activity, students couldn't handle the creepiness of having that much information.

So fresh from fighting the forces of the digital Big Brother to which I had already gladly surrendered so much, did I come to my senses and stay the hell off the Internet, where my private life has become little more than another plot point in someone's massive database? Nope, I joined an Internet dating site. And I came to another realization about the way the Internet often works. It turns out, everyone comes off as a complete tool when given a tiny box of text to give a self-description. People's interests come out looking conceited or stupid, but rarely interesting.

Defeated by the cruel sting of dating-site homogenization, I began to wonder if others had had better luck elsewhere. But then I discovered this scam.

So what's the lesson here? It's true to the point of nearly being a cliche that the Internet has done a tremendous job at blurring the lines between public and private. People are social creatures, and we want to share information about ourselves - we want other people to know who we are. But we still expect privacy. We want to post on our friends' Facebook profiles, but we don't want the world to know we've done so. We want to reply to sex ads with our personal information, thinking that nothing bad could possibly happen.

I think there is a better way, though, and this is why I'm really a fan of the "blogging revolution" (which is a silly thing to call it, but it is what it is). The blogging medium acts much the same way that personal relationships used to work - rather than finding out the facts of someone's life distilled through idiotic love tests or a Facebook interests section, blogs are a slow reveal, with the picture being built out of the thousand details of a post. But the blogosphere - and here we need to distinguish between not-really blogs like MySpace and real blogs like Althouse's (or this one!) - also tends to be self-selecting, weening out both the idiots who would send naked pics from their work addresses and the staggeringly horrible people who would put out fake sex ads and post the results. So I guess the point of this already too-long post is this: thanks for stopping by the blog. We look forward to getting to know you.

Friday, September 08, 2006

In the Beginning, Axis of Babylon

As the inaugural post on this blog I would just like to give you, dear reader, a quick introduction to my perspective on we are and where we are coming from.

Steve and I share a long history, going back to the great Bradley Learning Community (or Liquor Cabinet) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, fall of 2001. Stranded at the point furthest from human contact on the campus, we began discussing, debating, and occasionally arguing about contemporary politics, culture, and the big picture ideas of our contemporary world.

I have generally been the "Democrat/left" member of the conversation, best exemplified by the events surrounding the 2005 Bush inaugural. I took a bus to DC to protest, Steve organized the counter-protest that gave a "friendly" send off to myself and the other protestors. The night before, he stored the placards in our apartment, (we were roommates at the time) and, after exchanging a couple of looks, and breaking open some cold PBR, we had a couple of laughs and started figuring out better slogans.

We have our differences, and we don't talk past them like Brooks and Shields, but we've learned over time that we work best as a team, taking on the pompous, the overwrought, and the inane on both sides of the ideological spectrum. Equally important we share a love of music, movies, and other pop artifacts, ranging from the highbrow to junk. Hopefully we'll have a chance to share that with you as well.

On that note, check out the Axis of Justice radio archive and podcasts, a left-wing community radio show hosted by System of a Down frontman Serj Tankian and guitarist Tom Morello of Audioslave and Rage. They have managed to get most of the big names on the Left at one point or another (Noam, Naomi, Zinn etc). Equally important they have impeccable taste in protest music of all genres and eras. For those of you that like the music, but not the politics, they have a bunch of shows sans guests.

Also check out my YouTube video for the day: The Richest Man in Babylon from Thievery Corporation.