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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Election Insight 

There's been a lot of stuff written – some worthwhile, most of it not – about the recent election. But I think by far the best commentary has come from T. Herman Zweibel, Publisher Emeritus of ''The Onion''.
How impressive is the willingness of the commoner, that eternal puppet of plutocrats, to invest a few hours in deciding if his life will be directed by the strings on his limbs or the hand up his fundament. ... So enjoy what joy and triumph you may find in your pitiful exercise of the democratic franchise. Reflect on it for a night or two. Then, with the inevitability of the migrating lemming, you shall transfer that joy to the availability of a new sandwich, perhaps one topped with a a heretofore unseen variety of cheese and accompanied by fried potatoes cut into an unusual helical shape.
I'm trying to resist my cynicism, but every cabinet appointment and actual decision made by the administration-elect makes me more and more frustrated. At least Daschle for HHS doesn't seem fraught with criminal apology and/or corporate bootlicking. Or does it? For several years he's been at a law firm which works with lots of drug companies and HMOs.
A spokeswoman for Alston & Bird declined to disclose which of the firm’s health care industry clients Mr. Daschle had advised; the firm represents dozens of such concerns including pharmaceutical companies, health care providers, and trade groups for nurses and nursing homes.
Maybe I should just stop reading the news.


Kitchen Fight is quick and cute. Think Xiao Xiao meets Roger Rabbit.

Today I'm listening to: Autopsy!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Automotive Bailout: Two Things 

I love it when NPR or CNN refers to Chrysler and the unnamed "private equity firm" that bought it in 2005. That's because the firm in question is called Cerberus. You know – the three-headed demon hound guarding the gates of hell. I can't imagine why they don't want their name associated with the apocalyptic meltdown of the US economy. (TPCQ: "We're talking the original dog from hell." "You mean Cerberus?") Also, I just found out via the Wikipedia article there that Dan Quayle has been working with Cerberus for years. Good to see he's keeping busy.

Now, for the more important point about the bailout: As Naomi Klein pointed out with regard to the Wall Street bailout, the relevant question isn't so much "Should there be a bailout or not?" Instead, we need to ask: "What sort of bailout are we talking about? What will the conditions be?" We basically gave Wall Street a blank check and told them to keep up the good work. Should we do the same thing with Detroit? Of course not – but that's not our only option. Let's set up an analogy.

Dave is a guy who works in an office. Makes a good living, loves his wife and kids. One day, Dave gets high on crystal meth and takes his family savings into the casino. He blows the lot on craps, and leaves broke. Should his kids pay for his bad decision? Of course not. Should the community help mom and the kids eat, pay the bills, and get back on their feet? Sure, that's what communities are all about. However, Dave needs to go immediately into drug rehab and Gambler's Anonymous. He needs help, and he needs to change his behavior.

Suppose Dave's older brother Mike is the one who helps the family out in their time of need. It's not outrageous for Mike to set the terms of his assistance: "I'll help you, Dave, but you can't go near a casino until you pay me back and earn back your trust." Remember that scene in Parenthood? The British government, after all, required companies to rein in executive pay and dividends. Seems obvious to me.

You betcha

They're offering Sarah Palin $7 million for a book. It's a good deal for the publisher – all they have to do is take one of Sean Hannity's afterbirths, swap out some pronouns, and they're all set. Palin can't even read – I'll bet the ghostwriters are almost done with the rough draft already.

Personally, I find Palin fascinating at this point. She's a breathing example of style devoid of substance – and what traction she's finding around the country! It's an object lesson in how not to be a real American, while swearing violently about one's own patriotic bona fides.

Everyone's talking about her getting a talk show or whatever, but that doesn't really interest me. The reason is that she'd be talking to just a small part of the US, like Rush Limbaugh or Bill O'Reilly or a hundred other people who tell the narrow-minded what they already believe to be true. No, I like seeing her try to speak to all of us; trying to compete in the global marketplace of ideas, where it sorta does matter what you say, not just how you say it. It's like Dan Quayle yelling "Endive! Endive! Endive! Endive! Endive! Endive! Endive! Endive!"

Building a cabinet

Man, he's talking about letting Hillary be Secretary of State. I can hear the sniper fire already! Kissinger says she's do a great job. That's reason enough to throw her file in the trash.

Now I hear he's going to make Eric Holder the Attorney General, despite the fact that he represented Chiquita Banana after they were busted paying millions to paramilitary death squads in Colombia! (Meanwhile, all NPR is talking about is the Marc Rich pardon.) It's like Obama's trying to see how much hope he can drain out of us.



We like the moon! At least the freakish mutant hamsters would never sell us out. Oh, wait.

Today I'm listening to: CIM!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

What If There Is No Blood? 

I just finished watching – again – There Will Be Blood. Spoiler alert, don't read more if you haven't seen it. Many questions, many things I had forgotten from the first time.

James Baldwin said: "People pay for what they do, and for what they allow themselves to become. And they pay for it simply through the lives they lead." Like many people, I've worried the last scene to death (sorry), and I'm still tangling with its many implications – along with those of the title. Obviously "the blood" resists single meanings; Plainview is washed in it, but it's from a false prophet. But let's take the only blood we see. (Broken leg, no blood. Man killed in well, no blood. Plainview shoots his brother, no blood.) There's no question he's miserable when he's finished. No son, if he ever had one. Is the blood Eli Sunday's, or Plainview's? Suppose it's the latter – Plainview drinks the Sunday milkshake, but surely he can't taste it. It's fair to say then that (in this case at least) Baldwin was right.

But suppose there is no blood. Suppose Hitler doesn't shoot himself. Suppose Judas doesn't hang himself or his body doesn't split open. Suppose V loses and Parliament doesn't blow up. Suppose The Emperor wins.

It happens, right? Idi Amin lived to be 80. Same with Suharto. Maybe Balzac had it right – the spoiled daughters go off to live their happy little lives after sucking Dad's blood, and Père Goriot dies alone in lots of pain. I don't know if I can face a world so existentially bleak, nor can I abide the quantum uncertainty of the agnostic option. But do I, as a rational thinking human, have a choice? I want to believe in a universal law, but I must admit that I'm not convinced. People do get away with murder.

This train of thought brings us back to the other definition of "blood"; suppose there is no blood for us to be washed in. Suppose sin itself is an invention of the false prophet, eliminating the need for blood. If there will be blood, must there also be sin? And conversely, without the former, does the latter exist – or just its conception? More to the point here, can we have sin without blood with which to wash it? And can we wash blood with blood?

I'm curious to know what other folks think.


The trailer.

Today I'm listening to: The soundtrack.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

A Taste of Governmental Sanity 

I'm happy. It's been a long time since I felt hopeful about US presidential politics, and I'm enjoying the feeling today of being happy and hopeful. Starting tomorrow, I will return to my cynical suspicions about how the people who really control this nation would never let anyone get elected who posed a significant threat to their system of control and hegemony. (As the saying goes: "If voting really changed anything, they'd make it illegal.") But today I'm happy and hopeful.

I have hope that we'll have a national government that isn't asinine and pompous. I have hope that when I hear on the news: "The president spoke about [topic] today..." I won't cringe and prepare myself to yell at the radio. I have hope that we can change things so that millions of kids in the most wealthy nation in the history of the world won't live below the poverty line. I have hope that we can get health care to everyone. I have hope that we will start obeying the international laws we have sworn to uphold. I have hope that we can put a leash on Wall Street so that their insane and insatiable lust for profit and market share won't cause ulcers for regular working people. I have hope that we can combat terrorism with legal policework and global cooperation, instead of torture and unilateral bombing campaigns. (For the record, I know that Obama himself is not the saviour who will deliver these things unto us – but we have an opportunity to work for them unlike any I've seen in my lifetime.)

But I'm also nervous. Those white supremacists arrested just before they tried to assassinate Obama were not alone. There are people – I saw them on TV and heard them on the radio – who are very unhappy about having an African-American as president. But I am hopeful that the best natures of the American soul can rise above and quell the flames of blind ignorance, and help us unite for positive futures.

And today I am happy.


Here's Run-DMC on Reading Rainbow. I don't remember why, but this came up in class today. If you've never seen this before, you really need to watch it, for several reasons:
  • Jam Master Jay rapping, which didn't happen much (RIP JMJ!)
  • DMC digging through the trash
  • Lil' Run, Lil' DMC, and Lil' Jam Master – the kid versions of the trio
  • Levar Burton rockin' the freshest gear anywhere
  • Dude, it's RUN-DMC on Reading Rainbow!

Today I'm listening to: Groove Salad!

Saturday, November 01, 2008

RIP Studs 

I just found out that Studs Turkel has died. This makes me very sad, because he's one of those people I keep in my head as Someone Who's Working to Make It All Not Suck. He's been a vision for me of what a radical human can be throughout a lifetime: never relenting, never settling for "good enough".

For those who don't know (and don't care to check the Wikipedia link above), Studs Terkel was a radio journalist who interviewed thousands and thousands of ordinary people like you and me, then collected the interviews into books based on various topics: race, war, employment, economics, etc.

I read Working many years ago and found myself dazzled by the incredible variety of tales contained within. It was like reading a panorama of short stories about the most different kinds of folks you could ever hope to imagine – except they were all true. Other books of his have entertained me just as much, if not more.

One of his last books is entitled, appropriately enough, Hope Dies Last. I daresay his work will continue to inspire us, and that the hope he spread through this twisted world of ours will in fact never die.

Here's an hour-long video interview with Mr. Terkel. I haven't watched it yet, but I bet it's excellent.

Today I'm listening to: Chris Rock!