My sincere congratulations to President-Elect Obama, and to his supporters.
In spite of my beefs with Obama's policies and views (whatever they actually turn out to be), it's still a thing of beauty to see a black man giving an acceptance speech for the highest office of the land. Tonight I stand behind him as my next President.
As for tomorrow, I look forward to the coming revelation of the man behind the curtain. May he turn out to be the man Democrats hope he is, and not the man I think him to be.
All right, I was willing to forgive Obama his liberal elitism, but this is simply beyond the pale:
"That ain't right," Obama said. "Can you imagine? If Social Security funds had been invested in the stock market, Americans wouldn't even need Social Security!
"You would be having Sanford and Son," the senator said, referring to the 70s sitcom featuring Redd Foxx as the proprietor of a junkyard.
"I'm comin', Weezie," he said, laughing, botching one of the signature lines from the show, in which Foxx clutched his chest in a mock heart-attack and prepared to meet his late wife in heaven.
I ask you: is America ready for a President who doesn't know his Weezie from his Lizbeth?
I think not.
Now go blow some stuff up, you free men of this great Republic!
Lucky California motorists now enjoy one more opportunity to donate their hard-earned money to the public coffers!
The statewide hands-free cell phone law goes into effect today. After the one month grace period expires -- which is apparently optional, by the way, so don't try to get snippy with your friendly California Highway Revenue Collector -- drivers caught clutching a handset to their ear will be subject to a minimum $97 fine. A hefty $211 will be levied against repeat offenders.
Distracted drivers yapping away on their phones while swerving across multiple lanes of traffic are certainly not among my favorite people. My vocal cords throb chronically from the extended streams of loud obscenities that I am forced to unleash each time I encounter one. But my disdain for such folks is nothing compared to my loathing of lawmakers who produce feel-good legislation that gives the outward appearance of improving safety, while actually doing little beyond increasing government and business revenues.
Here's what you can expect from this brave, new, handsetless world:
In fact, I will be surprised if the overall accident statistics don't go up slightly. At least when people were using handsets, other drivers could spot the telltale hand-to-ear pose from a distance, and take appropriate defensive measures. Now your first clue that the bimbo next to you is blabbing on about last night's Idol results show will be when she sideswipes you at seventy miles an hour.
You can, however, expect lawmakers to point to those statistics with one hand while patting themselves smugly on the back with the other.
They should also enjoy a nice little bump to their bottom line in a couple of years, when the legislature decides to "strengthen" the law by demanding that drivers also invest in a voice-activated dialing apparatus.
I guess what I'm saying is: Buy MOT!
Oh, were you hoping you might finally get that Mack truck-sized pothole outside your house filled? Sorry, Joe, I'm afraid you're going to have to vote for another multi-billion dollar bond measure for that.
But hey, prosecuting reckless drivers is hard and stuff.
Kudos to enigmatic Finn and YouTube user StSanders, for producing what may well be the single funniest video clip I have ever seen: "Carlos Santana Shreds"
That Santana's keyboardist has not forged his own massively successful solo career is frankly criminal. Dude's got soul.
And if you enjoyed that, you may also enjoy "Jake E. Lee Shreds", in which The Ozzman Clappeth.
For those of you keeping an eye on the various and sundry walls of flame descending on Chula Vista, some good news. The built-in fire break to the north of the San Miguel Ranch area has been held, with firefighters not having to use a drop of water. The major power artery that fire officials have been concerned about is also now considered to be in the clear.
Some of the recent images we've been seeing of that area were fairly harrowing, showing a long line of fire marching uniformly toward the residential area. Fortunately, most of the newer developments down this way have been built with wide strips of cleared brush surrounding them. They're billed as walking trails, but apparently they also make pretty damned effective fire breaks.
The images we're seeing now are of smoldering brush, with only small pockets of flame left. With the wind calm, and live, green brush on the other side of the break, it looks like the houses there are safe. Considering how many of those fire breaks exist around Chula Vista and Eastlake, that's great news for the whole area.
The Eastern slope of Mount San Miguel, visible from my upstairs window, is in flames. Not much up there but a small city of antennae, but even that's bad news for anybody relying on broadcast TV tonight. Google Earth tells me what I'm seeing is 5.45 miles away as the crow flies. Rest assured, I'll be keeping an eye out for any flaming crows.
I'd immortalize the moment with a picture, but I suspect that if you've seen one indistinct orange blur in a sea of blackness, you've seen them all.
Living within a couple of miles of the Mexican border can be an exercise in media frustration during these massive firestorms.
During the 2003 Cedar Fire, we were treated to constant images of the burns near Kearny Mesa and Scripps Ranch, where the situation was admittedly dire. Meanwhile, however, another wall of flames was descending on the good folks here in Chula Vista. Any attempts to check in on the status of our local blaze were fruitless; occasionally we would receive the hugely helpful information that "flames also threaten Chula Vista", but that's about as detailed as things got.
Today has been much the same. As Rancho Bernardo and climes North have gone up in flames, the South Bay has been stuck in a virtual media blackout. This time, though, it's been difficult to determine just exactly what's burning anywhere in the county. The scope of the fire, coupled with clogged transportation arteries and the inability to get air support aloft, has made reporting, to put it lightly, a bit of a challenge.
As a result, maps of the affected areas have been few and far between, and even when they're shown, they're basically the equivalent of a big red blotch covering the whole county, with the legend, "Here Be Dragons!"
Thank God for bloggers like Rich Knitter then, who are tuned in enough to be aware of immensely useful resources like the MODIS Active Fire Mapping Program. What you'll find there is satellite data collected within the last few hours, indicating exactly where burns have been detected over the last 12 hours, 24 hours, and in the days since January 1. Even cooler, if you have Google Earth installed, you can follow this link to superimpose that data over a whizbang 3-D model of the area.
This, at last, explains why I'm seeing that funny, orangeish glow over the hills a couple of miles east of here.
As funny, well-written, and insightful as this piece may be, it's clearly based on junk science. Contrary to the 50-man Monkeysphere the article posits, I know for a fact that I, and most of my monkey brethren, harbor burning hatred for all but about four people.
All right, I'll admit I wasn't particularly impressed by the iPhone's mobile phone capabilities, or its embedded iPod, or the fact that you can watch tiny videos on it.
But I might just have to buy one, now that I know that it will blend.
Full disclosure: I am not a member of the cult of Apple, nor have I had much desire to own an Apple product since the day one presented me with that inspid "Dead Mac" icon. Not a diagnostic message indicating what had gone wrong, nor some hint of how I might fix the problem. Just a stupid, cutesy icon staring X-eyed at me; the equivalent of Apple telling me, "Your tiny mind can not possibly understand the internal workings of this massively complex machine. Just run along to the Mac store and a highly trained technician will make it all better, 'k? That's a good user."
With that said, it should surprise no one that I'm not really getting the people who are waiting in line for an iPhone. I mean, camping outside Best Buy overnight for a game console I can kind of understand. At least when you get a PS3, you have a day or two of completely debauched gaming goodness to look forward to. When you return home triumphantly clutching an iPhone, on the other hand, what are you going to do that will justify the hours of your life you spent in line? Call people?
"Hey, Ray! Guess what! You're the first person I'm calling on my new iPhone. I just got it. It's awesome, it has a screen and buttons and it lets you, y'know, call people and stuff! Yeah, sort of like the phone I already had. Uh. Hmm... Anyway, I gotta call some more people. Talk to you later!"
"Aw, shit. Battery's dead."
Britain's cheeky Channel 4 has put together the comprehensive documentary on The Great Global Warming Swindle.
The first half hour gives Academy Award winner Al Gore a hearty bitch slap with the firm, unyielding backhand of actual science. From there it goes into the origins of climate change chicanery, and details how this eco-idiocy is currently responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands in developing nations.
Watch and learn, then pass the link along to a Prius-driving moron you know and love.
Daily Bleat readers are aware that Lileks bought himself some new wheels a while back. He searched high and low, and eventually settled on one of those goofy-ass Honda Elements.
He appears happy with his decision, as he extols the car's virtues regularly; and though boxy, stupid-looking vehicles are not my personal cup of tea, I can not fault a man simply because his tastes differ from mine, and those of every person who has a nodding acquaintance with basic aesthetics and at least one functioning eye.
Anyway, a few days ago, I ran across one of these hideous things, sullying the streets of my neighborhood with its grotesque presence:
It's from Toyota, and it's called the "FJ Cruiser." "FJ", as in, "Are you Fucking Joking?"
Obviously, this too is not my style. But when I saw it I immediately thought of James. That's partly because it shares its design sensibilities -- or lack thererof -- with his beloved Element. But mostly it's because, when I saw this monstrosity, the first thing that went through my head was, "Oh, it's the Japanese Hummer."
And how do the Japanese pronounce "Hummer"?
That's right. It's a "Hummel". My God, it's the Lileks dream car! If only he'd waited a few extra months before plunking down his down-payment.
As if you needed another reason to believe that the U.N. is full of hot, steamy crap:
Seeing as we now apparently exist for the purpose of aggregating wacky YouTube clips:
I'm proud to call Mystery Science Theater 3000's Michael J. Nelson a fellow Californian, if only because it means I get to enjoy him riffing my local political ads.
By the way, I also want to offically endorse Chuck Poochigian for California's Attorney General. For obvious reasons.
I consider the Furnaces' Blueberry Boat album the best released so far this century, and the articulate responses provided by Friedberger go a long way toward explaining why it's so damned good. This is a guy who knows what he wants to get out of his own music, and doesn't care whether or not it jibes with what anybody else thinks rock'n'roll is supposed to be. Most illuminating.
By the way, if you don't own a Furnaces album, and you don't mind music that takes you a few dozen listens to truly appreciate, you can't go wrong with Blueberry Boat. Complex, interestingly orchestrated pop music. Smart, storytelling lyrics filled with clever wordplay. Striking, unique vocals from sister Eleanor (it's rare that you can cite a singer's sterling diction as a reason for enjoying her vocals) with Matthew's more subdued stylings providing an interesting counterpoint.
The thing that impresses me most about Boat is how evocative the music is. Rarely, outside of classical music, have I heard such dense, detailed tunes that so vividly illustrate their settings. If you were to listen to the title track sans-lyrics, you'd still get the sense of bobbing about in a little freighter on the open sea, the sudden pirate attack, the gloomy resolve of the protagonist's ghost, consigned to haunt Davy Jones' locker with her treasured blueberry cargo. In "My Dog Was Lost But Now He's Found", you can't miss the feeling of Eleanor running all over town, putting up flyers and searching her dog's old haunts. And "Birdie Brain", which bemoans the rise of such modern technologies as livery cars and steam trains, is colored with the beeping and booping of an equally antiquated Casio keyboard.
It's dense stuff, with so many musical threads woven into every minute that it will be a long time before I get tired of unravelling it. These are long, serpentine songs that might not make a lot of structural sense at first, and I don't expect everyone to want to put in the effort. Critics have called it self-indulgent, and maybe it is, and if so, who gives a crap? With the Friedbergers so clearly enjoying the hell out themselves, I'm willing to indulge their indulgence.
As far as their other albums go, Gallowsbird's Bark is also excellent, and quite a bit more accessible, with more typical song structures and none of the 8-10 minute epics that comprise most of Blueberry Boat. Bitter Tea is shaping up to be terrific as well, though I haven't listened to it enough times to compare it to the others yet. Rehearsing My Choir is a concept album about the Friedbergers' grandmother, and is said to be their most "difficult", though I haven't personally checked it out.
Some might be surprised to hear it, but I'm stoked about Monday's passage of a bill that cedes the Mount Soledad cross site in La Jolla to the federal government. It's not that I have a huge stake in whether the cross stays or goes; indeed, as a lifelong atheist, losing the cross as a religious symbol would affect me very little. And I certainly don't relish the voluntary transfer of even more power to the Feds, though I recognize that doing so was basically the final remaining option to save the cross.
Nonetheless, I'm pleased as punch that President Bush signed the bill, because doing so strikes a blow against a growing, insidious cancer on our body politic. It's something I call "Proctolotics", so named because it is a branch of politics that caters exclusively to assholes. Because, let's be honest here: spending 17 years doggedly pursuing a lawsuit to destroy a beloved regional landmark and religious symbol is not rational behavior for somebody who is simply "offended." It is the behavior of a complete and utter rectum.
The truth is, nobody is really bothered by the cross being up there. Nobody truly believes that it represents an implicit preference toward Christianity. Everybody understands that the cross was built at a time when Christianity was understood to be the predominant religion in this country, and expression of that fact was not considered an affront. And everybody realizes that the cross' present purpose, standing as a memorial to Korean War veterans, extends its significance beyond the religious; while the Latin cross carries little spiritual meaning for a godless bastard like myself, I recognize it as a universal symbol of memorial.
Philip Paulson, the "offended atheist" behind all this foofarah, knows all of this. Yet he continues to focus his energies on the destruction of the cross, an act that would cause a great deal of hurt to a great many people. That he couches his litigation as an altruistic effort to protect us all from the dastardly Christian Conspiracy fools no one. The only explanation for his actions that makes any sense to me is this: he is a man filled with hate, somebody who gets off on pissing in everybody else's cornflakes. In short, the guy is an anus.
And frankly, I'm sick to death of pols, lawyers, and judges who kowtow to these walking colons in order to further their own agendas. How long would this case have dragged on if it weren't for opportunistic litigators looking to generate more casework? For ambitious politicians publicly supporting Paulson's reprehensible position to bolster their own campaigns? For crusading justices who found for the prosecution out of their personal distaste for religion in the public square? Without these interlocuters, someone might have saved us hundreds of hours of time and effort by simply saying, "Mr. Paulson, you're being an ass. Please go away."
So when I see Congress and the President apparently united against one of them, it ignites a tiny glimmer of hope in my crusty and cynical heart. Certainly, we're not out of the woods yet, especially given the U.S. Supreme Court's recent determination to resolve church versus state issues with a coin flip. But to see the people in power finally showing a little fight is a damned good thing.
Man, if there's one thing I love, it's a Poncho Punch Otter Pop. I don't know whether the little red bugger got into the box legally or not, and to be honest with you I don't care. Documented or undocumented, that Poncho is one seriously delicious Latin-themed pouch of sugar water.
If there's another thing that I love almost but not quite as much as a Poncho Punch Otter Pop, it's a good scare. Not necessarily the jump-out-at-you kind of scare -- good fun though those are -- but the slow-building, eerie, raise the hair on the back of your neck variety. Anyway, I've been sitting here for the last hour creeping myself out, and seeing as I really have nothing much else to contribute at the moment, I thought I'd share.
When I was a kid, I had this book by a guy named William Poundstone, called "Big Secrets". For the benefit of those who've never been fortunate enough to run across a copy, allow me to summarize: it was about big secrets.
More specifically, it was about all sorts of stuff that you probably aren't supposed to know: Freemason initiation rites, weird stuff that appears on American money, the 11 secret herbs and spices in Kentucky Fried Chicken. A good half of the book really gave me the willies, so of course I spent hours reading and re-reading it and basically scaring the crap out of myself for entertainment purposes.
The chapter on backwards messages in music prompted me to spend hours meticulously reversing the spools of my cassette tapes in order to determine whether Paul was, in fact, dead.
After reading the section about subliminal messages in movies, I burnt a hole in my VHS copy of The Exorcist trying to isolate the couple of frames where the word "PIG" is hidden in a wall of graffiti.
And I was so taken with the book's detailed description of the Rorschach inkblot test that I badgered my Dad into finding and photocopying a set of plates for me, which I then used to conduct impromptu psychoanalysis sessions at parties. Coincidentally, it was around this time that I discovered that nearly all of my friends were borderline-psychotic, father-hating, closeted homosexuals. Oddly, many of the girls also had castration complexes.
Without a doubt, though, the chapter that spooked me the most was the one about Numbers Stations.
Conspiracy theorists and hipster types are probably already familiar with the odd lore of the Numbers Station, but for those who are not, it goes a little like this:
Wedged between the AM and FM bands of the electromagnetic spectrum is a huge range of frequencies known as the shortwave band. Most of the transmissions on shortwave frequencies are pretty pedestrian stuff -- news and weather reports, navigational beacons, time signals, and so forth. Slightly more exotic are the frequencies allocated to Air Force One, the FBI, the Secret Service, and other clandestine organizations. And then there are the Numbers Stations.
At various times of the day, on many different frequencies, a mysterious voice appears from nowhere. It may be a live voice or a synthesized one. It may be female or male. It might be speaking English, or Spanish, or German, or some Slavic variant. Whatever form the voice takes, the content of its broadcast is always the same: numbers, and lots of 'em. Nobody knows what the numbers mean, or where the voice is coming from. The station is not registered and the voice never identifies itself. It just chants its senseless litany of digits for a few minutes, then disappears back into the ether from whence it came.
Though the variety of different voices implies that they hail from many different sources, the broadcasts almost all follow the same basic format. They begin with some sort of introductory signal: German yodelling, a series of electronic tones, the quiet tinkling of a child's music box. Then the voice arrives on the scene, usually with a preliminary announcement; "Acthung!" perhaps, or repeated words from the phonetic alphabet, followed by a handful of numbers. This repeats for a while, then the voice proceeds with the meat of the transmission: dozens or hundreds of numbers, in groups of four or five, capped off with some sort of indicator that the broadcast is finished. Then, nothing more.
Heres's an example transmission from the "Swedish Rhapsody" station, so named for the music box melody that plays at the beginning of each broadcast:
- BEGIN TRANSMISSION -
A short but intensely freaky-ass music box piece plays 23 times.
Evil Robot: 73242 73242 95222 95222 04528 04528
More freaky-ass music box madness.
Evil Robot: Achtung! 73242 73242
Evil Robot: Achtung! 40023 40023 67152 67152 76997 76997 Ende.
Evil Robot: Achtung! 95222 95222
Right around here is where listeners who accidentally stumbled upon the broadcast crap their pants.
Evil Robot: Achtung! 83633 83633 84878 84878 21737 21737 Ende.
Evil Robot: Achtung! 04528 04528
Evil Robot: Achtung! 57625 57625 92622 92622 71419 71419 Ende.
- END TRANSMISSION -
Some of the Numbers Stations have a decidedly bizarre way of getting their message across. The lady on the Five Dashes station, for instance, sounds drunk, and not a little bit horny. The aforementioned Swedish Rhapsody employs a female voice that's unusually high-pitched, so that it sounds almost like a little girl inexplicably barking out German numerals.
Weirder still, some of these stations have no discernable message at all. Some just endlessly repeat the same letter in morse code ad infinitum. Others play a rapid series of seemingly random tones, like an epiliptic trying to dial an international phone number. One station, dubbed "The Buzzer" just, well... buzzes. To be truthful, it sounds more like the end result of a three-burrito lunch to me, but as spooky names go, "The Flatulator" just doesn't roll off the tongue.
I never had a shortwave receiver in my youth, but just the thought of these robotic voices out of nowhere would give me a major case of the creeps. Nobody knows why they're out there, or where they're coming from, or what they're trying to get across; if somebody does know, they ain't talking.
So why the hell has somebody -- or something -- been reading numbers and making vaguely farty noises on the shortwave band for the better part of four decades?
The fertile mind can come up with all sorts of implausible explanations. Perhaps space aliens snapped up the Voyager probes and have been trying to make contact with us using whatever limited vocabulary they were able to glean from those gold discs. Or maybe the stations are paranormal in nature. It's said that ghosts are simply electromagnetic imprints left behind when we shuffle off this mortal coil. Is it possible that shortwave listeners have inadvertently tuned into the poor, lost soul of some long-dead German mathematician, doomed to recite the digits of pi for all eternity, or until he gets to the end, whichever comes first?
Well, probably not, but the generally accepted explanation is hardly more comforting. It's commonly believed that the broadcasts are actually coded messages from espionage agencies to covert field agents operating in enemy territory. The unique attributes of shortwave make it well-suited for such uses. Because shortwave frequencies are refracted by the ionosphere, such transmissions are capable of traveling from their source to the other side of the globe. And because radio is inherently a broadcast medium, interested parties might eventually be able to triangulate the source of a transmission, but they can never identify its ultimate destination.
Perhaps its ultimate destination is that Albanian exchange student you're housing. Perhaps he sneaks down into your root cellar at 2 AM to listen for directives from the Motherland on his portable receiver, and not to masturbate in secret behind the hot water heater, as you had previously assumed. I'd keep an eye on that kid, if I were you.
As for the numbers themselves: the first set of each group is thought to identify the agent for whom the transmission is intended. The rest are believed to contain a message encrypted with a one-time pad, a code that for all intents and purposes is unbreakable. The general idea is that sender and receiver each have an identical "pad", probably just page after page of random numbers. A message could be encoded by adding numerical representations of its letters to the numbers on the pad, and decoded by doing just the reverse. As long as nobody else has a copy of the pad, and as long as the pad is never reused, there's no conceivable way an outsider could correctly interpret the message.
What that message actually conveys is anyone's guess. I think It's safe to say that it's not, "Be sure to drink your Ovaltine." Probably something more along the lines of, "Our exalted premier orders that you terminate the ambassador. Also, Boris says, 'Hi.'" Either way, it's not good. Personally, I don't want any dirty little Albanian spy kid assassinating our ambassadors or depleting America's precious supply of rich, chocolatey goodness.
Since I've never actually known anybody who had access to a shortwave receiver, I always assumed that I would never get to hear an actual Numbers Station broadcast. A few years back I heard about a 4 CD set called The Conet Project, which was basically a compilation of recordings made of Numbers Stations over the years, but by the time I had caught wind of it, the damned thing had gone out of print. I fished around on eBay for a bit, but no luck. Eventually, I gave up. "Have patience," I thought. "Sooner or later, the Internet shall provide."
Sure enough, a little over a year ago I learned that The Conet Project had been made available in its entirety at the Internet Archive. I must admit that as I downloaded the first track, I was a trifle worried. After years of building up Numbers Stations in my imagination as the pinnacle of horror, what if the actual item turned out to be a huge letdown?
I had little reason to worry. The 150 tracks on the compilation are scary as hell. The weird interval signals... the monotone robot voices... the everpresent wow and flutter of radio interference... the high-pitched warbling of some enemy agency doing its level best to jam the signal... it all adds up to one of the most inexplicably disturbing listening experiences I've ever had the pleasure of encountering. I challenge anyone to listen to fifteen minutes or so of this, alone, in a darkened room, and not get goosebumps the size of Pop Rocks.
Interestingly enough, it turns out that I had already heard a couple of Numbers Station broadcasts and not even realized it. If the phrase "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" means anything to you, you probably have, too. And long-time fans of Stereolab may be blissfully unaware that the voice chattering quietly away in the background of the song "Pause" is none other than Little Miss Swedish Rhapsody.
If any of this has piqued your curiosity, I highly recommend you download some or all of The Conet Project and its accompanying book. From there, you should check out Simon Mason's web site and his excellent book on the subject, "Secret Signals." It may not be as downright tasty as a Poncho Punch Otter Pop, but as somewhat of an expert on the subject, I can vouch that it will chill you just as effectively.
New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin paid a visit to my fair city yesterday. You remember Ray Nagin, right? The modern-day Nero who fiddled for the media, railing against federal disaster response while his city -- and dozens of innocent schoolbuses -- drowned in the wake of Hurricane Katrina? Well now he's touring from city to city to lecture business and civic leaders on, of all things, disaster preparedness.
Well, if that ain't the Krackel calling the Whatchamacallit crunchy...
"I don't want to see what's happened to us happen to another community," spouted Nagin. A forgiving sort might actually buy into his good intentions. I, on the other hand, find it much more likely that Nagin is just creating another opportunity to take pot shots at the Bush administration and FEMA, a suspicion that is not much assuaged by Nagin's claims that, "Our federal government is not modern enough for current disasters."
Maybe that's true, Mr. Mayor, and maybe the FEMA response was sluggish and not particularly well-coordinated. Regardless, the first response is the responsibility of the local government, read "you." This was the case before and during the Katrina flooding, and it remains so today. No amount of trying to revise history under the guise of saving other local governments from your well-deserved ignominy will change that.
Perhaps this is what Nagin meant when he "urged his San Diego audience to avoid the chaos he faced by planning who would be in charge." Or perhaps he meant that complete incompetents like himself should be prepared to hand the reins over to somebody with half a clue at the first sign of trouble.
I would ask every local and state government to take a hard look at their disaster plans," he adds. And this, at least, is some good, sound advice. Do not, he is suggesting, take your first look at said disaster plan four days after the levees break, like someone I could mention.
Considering the source, Nagin's comments are laughable; almost as laughable as the Union-Tribune's attempts to legitimize them by referring to Nagin as "mayor of what is now the most experienced city in natural disaster response." That's crap. One only gains experience at something by actually doing it, and the City of New Orleans did exactly two things in response to Katrina: jack and shit. Or does the daring way the New Orleans police force looted grocery stores and/or ran for the hills count as a response?
Sorry, Ray, but even if your warnings carried the tiniest bit of weight, they would still be unnecessary. I'm happy to say that I have confidence that our recently elected Mayor, Jerry Sanders, would respond to a major disaster in San Diego by showing poise and leadership; not by expressing panicked outrage to Geraldo Rivera in front of the increasingly rank Superdome while his constituents drown in their attics.
So kindly take your grandstanding elsewhere, Mayor Nagin. Alternately, you might consider spending some time at home. I understand there's some sort of most-extensive-rebuilding-effort-in-our-nation's-history going on there. I figure you might want to be a part of that, seeing as how you missed out entirely on mitigating the destruction that provoked it.
You know, I donated some money to the Red Cross relief fund shortly after Katrina hit, but now I really hope that it went to the surrounding areas instead of New Orleans proper. Frankly, any city that would re-elect a chucklehead like this deserves everything it gets.
Roger Friedman at Fox News suggests that Isaac Hayes didn't quit his role as South Park's Chef, but that somebody -- perhaps Hayes' Scientology handler -- quit it for him. Friedman makes an interesting case, though I see a few problems with his theory.
First, it's not at all unusual for somebody who suffers a stroke or a life-threatening illness to reevaluate his perspective, particularly where religion is concerned. Neither Hayes being in intensive therapy nor his prior statements about the Scientology episode prove that the man hasn't simply changed his mind.
More troubling is the cranky response South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone issued immediately after the news came out. If Hayes has indeed been out of commission for a couple of months and "in no position to have quit anything", I would have expected Parker and Stone to have at least a basic awareness of that.
Still, I hope Friedman's little conspiracy theory turns out to be true. Hayes has always come off as a tremendously good sport about the content of South Park, a fact that has given hope to those of us who desire to some day throw off the shackles of political correctness and be able to speak our minds freeely once again.
The ever-topical T-Shirt Hell weighs in on the Danish cartoon controversy. They also lifted my supremely witty Muhammad Ali reference, but I'm going to chalk it up to flattery and keep the monkey lawyers on the leash. For now...
The new Belle & Sebastian album, The Life Pursuit, is out Monday in the U.K. and Tuesday in the U.S.
The album is a good'un, though fans hoping for a return to the wistful navel-gazing of If You're Feeling Sinister may be disappointed. Ditto those expecting a continuation of the harder sound cultivated on 2003's Dear Catastrophe Waitress and the terrific "Your Cover's Blown" from the Books EP. The Life Pursuit rocks harder than the band's early output, but lacks the meaty Trevor Horn production of the last album.
It does, however, continue to explore the strange but satisfying twilight zone between Burt Bacharach and late sixties television theme songs. And although less immediately ingratiating than Catastrophe, the songs grow on you rapidly and feel more of a piece than that somewhat scattershot album. The overall mood is bright and sunny, though not without the trademark Murdoch ironic wit. Fans will be pleased, though B&S n00b's may be better served elsewhere.
Early Standouts: "Act of the Apostle, Part 1", "Sukie in the Graveyard", "We Are the Sleepyheads"
Betty Friedan, author of "The Feminine Mystique", is dead tonight at 85. Grandpa Munster (a.k.a. Al Lewis) also shuffled off his immortal coil today after 95 long, cantankerous-but-wacky years.
Any guesses as to which one I'll miss more?
(Here's a hint: It's not the one who kickstarted a social revolution that has resulted in more divorces, broken homes, screwed up latchkey kids, molestations at day care centers, inter-gender distrust, harassment of women who would dare to stay home and be Moms, and the general inability of regular guys to get laid, than you can shake a limp-from-fear-of-litigation stick at.)
Just kiddin'! I love the ladies! You go, girls! Please don't emasculate me!
So it's been nearly two days since an Egyptian ferry sank into the Red Sea, apparently killing a thousand or more.
Is it still too early to, uh, make the obvious Moses reference?
Yeah, I guess it probably is.
Hugh Hewitt spent a good chunk of his airtime today backing up his opinion that the infamous Danish cartoons were "vulgar", "stupid", and "an unnecessary affront", while simultaneously condemning the steady stream of death threats that have flowed out in response. His reasoning is that the cartoons were deliberately aimed at offending the greater Muslim population, and as such, foolishly risk expanding the scope of the War on Terror to a generalized clash of civilizations.
While I agree wholeheartedly that the death threats demand condemnation, on the subject of the cartoons themselves Hugh is way off. He's so concerned that the Middle Eastern predicament doesn't become "The West vs. Islam," that he effectively tosses Denmark's freedom of expression under the bus. Ironically enough, he proves the Danes' point in the process.
Hugh's major error is in deliberately ignoring the intent of the cartoons. Their purpose was neither to offend Muslims nor to denigrate Islam, but to determine whether controversial views can still be aired in Denmark without fear of massive reprisal. It is clear from the reaction of some Muslims -- most importantly the heads of various Middle Eastern states -- that they can not.
That the illustrators' goal was not specifically to offend should be obvious just from looking at the images. Of the twelve cartoons, only one of them -- the sketch of Muhammad with a bomb in his turban -- is clearly aimed at equating Islam with terrorism. One or two more poke fun at certain aspects of Islam. As to the rest, you'd have to have your cheeks clenched pretty tightly to believe that they were intended to provoke anger.
And what about that sketch of the Prophet with the explosive headwear? It certainly seems to suggest that the teachings of Muhammad are responsible, at least indirectly, for acts of violence and terrorism. Might that offend some Muslims? You betcha. If a similar accusation was launched against Christians -- and it has been, many times -- some of them would likely be offended too.
And in both cases, it would be a valid viewpoint worthy of debate and analysis; the kind of topic, I would argue, that we all should be discussing in order to better understand the players in this conflict, not to mention the stakes. If the press loses its freedom to raise such topics, we're all going to be in some deep doo doo.
The Jyllands-Posten's little experiment was not a stupid, irresponsible act of petty bigotry, but a necessary attempt at bringing to light hugely important realities about the growing influence of Islam in the Western world. It has opened a lot of eyes that were previously squeezed tightly shut in Europe and the rest of the West. It is exactly the sort of thing that a newspaper's editorial clout should be used for, and I would hope that my local newspaper would have cojones big enough to do the same. (It wouldn't.)
As to whether we stand at the brink of a clash of civilizations, I honestly don't know. Certainly nobody in the West wants that -- nobody worth mentioning, anyway -- and I'd wager that the vast majority of people in the Muslim world feel the same. If a war of ideals is to be avoided, however, then it's absolutely critical that Muslims recognize and learn to accept that most in the West do not subscribe to the sharia; that we jealously guard our freedom to flap our gums as we please, regardless of whether they wish to deny themselves the same.
If they can't, or won't, live with that, then clash we will. And no amount of ignoring the signs of that eventuality, or disparaging those who would bring it to light, is going to stop it.
As for me, I'm drinking Carlsberg tonight. Who wants one?
I strongly support the sentiment expressed by my fellow monkey in the previous post. And as a show of solidarity, I'd like to be the first to follow up with my own rendering of Muhammad:
I also second the challenge to post your own images to your own blogs. Keep in mind, however, that no matter what you produce, mine will still be The Greatest.
Am I the only person who spent two days wondering why the cover of James Frey's non-faction book, "A Million Little Pieces," depicts a man's hand coated with rainbow sprinkles?
I never thought I'd say this, but I actually feel kinda sorry for Joel Stein. No doubt he woke up on Tuesday feeling pretty good about himself for actually trying to make a statement in one of his useless columns. Then a mountain of shit came crashing down on his head.
It's a testament to Joel's naiveté that he thought he could lead off a column with "I don't support our troops," and not get spanked for it. Reading his piece, it's pretty clear to me that he was trying to take his rather asinine basic premise -- that it's hypocrisy to both protest the war in Iraq and support the troops -- and make it go down easier by coating it with some of his patented brand of humorless humor. He just did such an inept job of it that readers who weren't already aware that Joel and his works are utterly disposable took it seriously.
Now he has the likes of Michelle Malkin gloating about how Hugh Hewitt beat him up in an interview. I'll be the first to admit that fate has smiled far too kindly on Mr. Stein over the years, but nobody deserves to have to put up with that. Hell, even Lileks took a chunk out of him. That's like being beaten senseless by a garden gnome, and twice as humiliating.
It must be bewildering to Stein that the same pundits who for months have been spouting off that people who oppose the war also inherently oppose the troops now jump down his throat for attempting to make the same point. Worse still, his column was meant as a knock on the anti-war folks, so ain't nobody gonna be standing up for the guy. Least of all his editor at the Times, who really should have known better.
No doubt Stein's been chugging along all these years writing his dumb little columns and hearing nothing but, "Oh, you're so witty, Joel," from whomever actually reads his tripe. This must have been a pretty rude awakening. I feel for the guy.
Dave asked me this evening if I wanted to be a monkey. So I sat and I drank, and I drank and I thought. And this is what I thought:
To be a monkey, one must understand what makes a monkey. What is that stuff that puts the prime in primate? What are the core qualities that define the very essence of simianness? ness?
Is it the bullheaded resolve to pore perpetually over the coarse fur of life, picking feebly at the swarming nits in the vain hope of finally stopping the damned itching?
Is it the thrill of the hunt, punctuated by the deeply satisfying thud of a damned dirty lemur striking the ground, moments after being dislodged from his tree by an impeccably aimed lump of your own excrement?
Is it the simple joy of masturbating furiously to the amusement and shock of the busload of impressionable schoolchildren who came to gape at you?
Is it the uncontrollable primal urge to construct a clumsy metaphor about blogging and stretch it a good quarter mile past the breaking point?
Yea, being a monkey is all these things and more. Sometimes, for instance, a monkey must vote, or argue about The Smiths.
This I thought, and I also drank, and then I said, "OK." And now, I guess, I am a monkey.
Come closer, children, I have something I'd like to show you.