culture, politics, commentary, criticism

Monday, September 30, 2002
It's still the economy, stupid. All the pitiful free-market ideologues continue to try to pin the blame for recent market madness on Bill Clinton, as if his policies had anything at all to do with the current "lack of visibility" that is keeping a heavy lid on the markets.

The markets hate uncertainty. Wealth increased during the Clinton administration because he was reliable and predictable, even if occasionally amoral in his personal life. But never was his integrity as a conflict-of-interest profiteer questionable. In contrast, the markets plunged during Bush II not because of 9/11, or only partially so, but because of the clouds of conflict of interest (i.e., Enron, Halliburton, the Carlyle Group, etc.) and the highly risky national bets he is placing on behalf of Daddy's and Rumsfeld's grudge match with Saddam.

The New York Daily News reports that even Bush's own political advisers wish for Clinton back in the White House, if only for the positive effect he might have on their personal
Friday, September 27, 2002
Increased weediness may sound like a description of the blogosphere, but the term actually refers to one of thirteen categories of the
risks of genetic engineering identified by the Union of Concerned Scientists. Divided into "Potential Harms to Health" and "Potential Environmental Risks," this fact sheet catalogs the known risks and points out the limits of our imaginations, alluding to the unknowable nature of "what might go wrong."

Why don't individual scientists recognize their personal accountability in this mess? Do genetic engineers believe that they fully understand all the ramifications of their actions in the areas of physiology, nutrition, microbiology, toxicology, and ecology? Don't they feel dishonest gambling with everyone else's chips?
Thursday, September 26, 2002
Let's talk about death. Besides natural causes, what else causes death? Accidents, suicide, homicide, acts of war, and the practice of

"The human cost of medical errors is high. Based on the findings of one major study, medical errors kill some 44,000 people in U.S. hospitals each year. Another study puts the number much higher, at 98,000. Even using the lower estimate, more people die from medical mistakes each year than from highway accidents, breast cancer, or AIDS." -- Institute of Medicine, 2000

At the lower estimate, medicine is the 8th leading cause of death in the US. But wait, there's more. These figures do not include people who pick up infections from hospitalization:

"The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 2 million people annually acquire infections while hospitalized and 90,000 people die from those infections."

I know what you're thinking... But what about me? Find out the odds of your own death.
Wednesday, September 25, 2002
Under conservative rule, the life you take might be your own. A study published in Nature states that a nation's suicide rate increases under right-wing governments.

I guess if citizens do away with themselves, a government can avoid writing any substantive health care legislation. Read all about it
Remember 1998, back when the infamous names Lewinsky and Starr kept all the headlines to themselves? In March of that year, a certain George H. W. Bush (with Brent Scowcroft) wrote these words of his own encounters with Iraq:

Going in and occupying Iraq, thus unilaterally exceeding the U.N.'s mandate, would have destroyed the precedent of international response to aggression we hoped to establish.

In four short years, Bush's supposed fears for the consequences of unilateralism and desire for international cooperation have been eclipsed by his own son's administration. Or is Bush dynasty rhetoric just a slow motion game of three-card monte? Let's move around what we're saying, and you have to guess where the meaning is.

You can
The Memory Hole.
Let us now praise persistent excellence. The links in the right column represent varying degrees of indispensability, so from time to time I will call your attention to individual sites of note.

One site that consistently amazes me in its eclecticism and thoughtfulness is
Plep, a hand-picked consolidation of links from around the world, covering everything from Asian religions and roadside Americana to museums of zoology. If you enjoy the sometimes obscure but always fascinating -- go!
Tuesday, September 24, 2002
Skimble is the only site that comes up when you search for
"Enronistan" and "secular humanism" on Google.

And that makes us feel a little bit proud.
Someone finally figured out how to fulfill the promise of the Internet. It's not e-commerce. Not brand strategy. Not telepresence. Not Level 2 Nasdaq.

free education, delivered to your desktop courtesy of MIT, as told in this story from the BBC.

"There is no revenue objective, ever," says the Executive Director of the program. Is it me, or do the times we live in (i.e., war-based capitalism) make a pronouncement like that sound almost incomprehensibly alien and thrilling?
Who needs Photoshop with a president like this?


He must "read" his intelligence briefings upside-down too.

Postulate: readers are leaders. Corollary: non-readers are non-leaders. From BartCop via Eschaton.
Thursday, September 19, 2002
This morning on CNN George H. W. Bush, in a boat off the coast of Japan, tossed bouquets of flowers into the sea to commemorate the deaths of two of his colleagues when he was in active duty there.

Considering the relatively low profile he's maintained during the last couple of years, this timing of this action could hardly be more productive for his namesake's administration. A cynic might think Daddy was volunteering to be a stage prop in the Chickenhawk Dynasty Theatre of War.
From the casino economy to the pawn shop economy in two short years. "Pawnbrokers gauge how bad the economy really is, as small business owners arrive to pawn valuables and automobiles for short-term loans." Listen to the whole report from
NPR. [RealAudio]
Wednesday, September 18, 2002
Peace... Haiku... Masturbation. What more could anyone want from
Tuesday, September 17, 2002
New frontiers in blame. Paralyzed actor Christopher Reeve blames George W. Bush and the Catholic Church for his continuing disability, if this article in
The Guardian is to be believed.

What could have caused his stupidity in making this absurd assignment of blame? The horse he was riding seven years ago shook his brains so hard that all his rationality fell out of his head?

I will be the first to get in line to criticize Bush and/or the Catholic Church -- whenever there's legitimate cause, which is often enough to keep us all busy. But Reeve's pathetic whining for publicity is becoming more grotesque with each new story. What will he do next? Sue for future damages not prevented by future cures? Tell it to the horse!
Progress is revolting. This article in the UK's
Telegraph suggests that the 9/11 attacks on the US have fueled anti-intellectual sentiment and mistrust of science.

"An increasing proportion of the population seems to distrust rational inquiry to establish both the facts and the uncertainties; rather they prefer their instincts or even to celebrate anti-intellectualism."

His [Prof Sir Howard Newby, the chief executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England's] comments reflect concerns of the scientific establishment that the public has lost faith in science. People are less deferential, and less willing to accept the views of "experts" without question, he believes.


The scientific community has retreated from engagement with society, just as society at large has been excluded from the real world of scientific method.

"The scientific community is mystified by the idea that morals should direct its research, while those who seek to make science more publicly accountable are equally baffled by the logic and methods of science.

"The public now feels that it is reduced to the role of a hapless bystander or, at best, the recipient of scientific advance and technological innovation which the scientific community believes it ought to want."

Could it be that science is beholden to something other than social progress, namely, the globalized interests of power and profit, which work ceaselessly against social progress?

This mystifying article also ignores the substantial influence of religious superstitions in the form of fundamentalism. Regardless of whether they are Christian or Muslim, fundamentalsts who insist upon revealed truth will always fight with those who insist upon scientific truth, and the poor hapless suckers who get caught in the middle are simply further evidence of the impossibility of social progress in a world dominated by politicized religion and politicized technologies.

Secular humanism never looked so good.
Monday, September 16, 2002
Enronistan. With all the Iraq rhetoric flying, US citizens should pause to remember what made the present administration noteworthy: namely, al-Qaeda and Enron. See our map of the
redistricting of Afghanistan in accordance with the overriding needs of the Bush dynasty.
Friday, September 13, 2002
"I find it rather easy to portray a businessman. Being bland, rather cruel, and incompetent comes naturally to me." A quotation from
John Cleese.
Thursday, September 12, 2002
Virtuoso storyteller Stanislaw Lem has written some of the most thought-provoking stories and novels of the last several decades. I first encountered his eerily wonderful reviews of imaginary books (somewhat reminiscent of Borges, but with a sci-fi bent) in The New Yorker and later in his highly recommended book A Perfect Vacuum.

Now Steven Soderbergh, director of the recent films Ocean's Eleven and Traffic, is directing a remake of
Solaris (originally a Russian film, although Lem is Polish) for a November 2002 release in the US.

You can visit Lem's own site for an introduction to the man and his work.
Got spider-goat milk? Corporate technologists are feverishly devising and testing new ways to create a huge range of never-before-seen allergies, birth deformities, poisonous foods and incalculable suffering -- all through the miracle of
transgenetics. Celebrities will soon be called upon to sell us bioengineered milk moustaches in milk industry advertising.
Wednesday, September 11, 2002
"Never have the ordinary people of America, the decent, working stiffs whose bodies lay in the hecatomb of Ground Zero, needed and deserved a great tribune more urgently. The greatest honour we could do them is to take back the voice of democracy from the plutocrats."

This quote comes from an astonishing essay, entitled "The dead and the guilty" and written by Simon Schama, that can be found in
The Guardian. Thanks to Ozten for the link.
New York, Washington DC and Pennsylvania are not the only places with a Ground Zero to remember. On the other side of the world in Kenya,
Nairobi has one too.

Painting by
Gerhard Richter. Used without permission to commemorate the dead.
Monday, September 09, 2002
When was the last time the US
bombed Iraq? (Hint: Roughly once a week for the last three years.)
Five reasons to bomb Iraq as channeled by
Tom Tomorrow in Salon.
Saturday, September 07, 2002
Ditchweed wildfire. The US Government's War on Drugs became a War on California, when a narc helicopter started a wildfire that burned 56,000 acres (that's roughly 22,000 hectares in metric-speak). Here's the official
explanation from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, in Word and PDF formats. No word on whether they saved any burn victims from the dangers of cannabis.
I live in Chicago not too far from where the stockyards immortalized by Upton Sinclair in The Jungle used to be. Now the area is mostly vacant land and random industrial park tracts. But this is what it used to look like:


This image was shot in about 1907 and may give you a sense of the scope of the slaughter. If you click on the image, you'll see that each of those pens (the word "cubicles" also comes to mind) is filled with animals. Vegetables suddenly seem so much more appealing.

Update: The blogmeister at bad things informs me that the links above do not work and I can't figure out why not. So you'll have to poke around for yourself in the Prints and Photographs Online collections at the Library of Congress, and here's another point of entry. The above image came from a collection of historical panoramic photography. Fascinating stuff.
Friday, September 06, 2002
Grief porn. You want to stop seeing the images of September 11, 2001. You want to turn away from the spectacle of grief. You want not to hear another heart-rending story.

And yet you must. The prurient urge to watch it all again will be tempted over and over and over for the next five days. Television gives us what little there is left of a sense of national community, of epic tragedy, of human loss. It pays such shallow tribute that these catastrophes which eclipsed our imaginations for the last year must be relived through such a paltry, irresistible medium as TV, but maybe that's the only way we can reinvigorate the memory of those lost.

I remember the couple of days following the attacks as the only times I felt that television approached anything resembling honesty. Within a week, the standard manipulations (elegiac musical themes, flag-draped graphics, wiping of tears from cheeks in dramatic slow motion) had returned with full force, and cheapened the titanic emotions we all felt.

My fear now is that a new sophistication among television producers will amplify the artificial poignancy to new heights, while the genuine poignancy will remain locked away, grieving, in millions of beating hearts, invisible and mute as the souls we lost.
Thursday, September 05, 2002
The exhibition Gerhard Richter: Forty Years of Painting offers a career-spanning overview of the German artist's dizzying disloyalty to style. Ironically, out of freedom from style he has managed to create a uniquely personal style: one that combines technical deftness with independence from the movements, manners and genre traps that afflict many of the most celebrated visual artists.

As with all the best paintings, the pictures simply do not reproduce correctly in photographs (the scale, color, and delicate surface effects are always lost) and must be seen in person. Richter's seemingly dispassionate approach may strike some as chilly, but his ideology-free intellectual and technical rigor are amazing to behold.

The exhibit closes its Chicago run this week, but then moves on to the
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Hirshhorn in Washington.
Wednesday, September 04, 2002
Annals of Unintended Results. Over the weekend as I was driving on the highway like every other patriotic American, I noticed a police car pull out of a speed trap (Labor Day weekend being the final bonanza of the year for quick revenue) in such a way that there was almost a fifteen-car pile-up. A law enforcement officer, sworn to uphold the peace, nearly killed or injured dozens of peaceful people in an accident provoked by doing his job. Which led me to the question: Of all that we do, how much actually produces the exact opposite of what we intended? How many tragic ironies are avoidable? How many are we doomed to endure?

Iatrogenic illnesses and injuries are those unintentionally caused by doctors or medical treatment. Attempting to heal makes the sick sicker. Is ignorance caused by our system of education? Is hunger or, metaphorically, emptiness caused by our culture of abundance? Is terrorism caused by our infrastructure of defense and foreign policy? Are we, in our self-assigned role of World Cop, inadvertently setting ourselves up to cause more misfortune than we relieve?
Tuesday, September 03, 2002
Movie reviews. This weekend we watched three films on video.

Naked, released in 1993 and directed by Mike Leigh (who later directed Secrets and Lies), confirms my opinion that he is one of the most overrated directors currently working. These structureless, pointless exercises in film improvisation must be unbelievably exhilarating for the actors, who chew the scenery and rape each other with great abandon, but tedious for any audience members who might not welcome the nihilistic masturbation provided by Leigh's methods. Yes, David Thewlis does a wonderful job as lead villain, and there are occasionally stirring scenes, but so what? The world depicted is simply uninteresting. 3 out of 10.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being, adapted from the Milan Kundera novel of the same name, is a boring apology for adultery directed in a ham-fisted sitcommy style which contrasts with some pretty hot love scenes. Starring a bedroom-eyes Daniel Day Lewis and an adorable Juliette Binoche, the story feels stagey and arch whenever there's no sex going on. Nearly three hours is too long to tell this poorly reduced version of the book. 4 out of 10.

The Conversation, Francis Ford Coppola's 1974 masterpiece, is one of those prior-generation movies that not only holds up under the weight of time but might even look a bit better for its psychological insights and sociological prophesies. Gene Hackman dazzles in his quiet way and the acting ensemble is equally outstanding. The beautiful balance between the human and the technical elements of the film help to project it higher than almost any other psychological thriller fare. This movie builds the kind of complex tension that makes you want to watch again -- immediately after having seen it. 9 out of 10.

For a second opinion, here are Roger Ebert's reviews of each of these films. He gave all of them 4 out of 4 stars. The Ebert take:
Naked, The Unbearable Lightness of Being and The Conversation.

Greatest Hits · Alternatives to First Command Financial Planning · First Command, last resort, Part 3 · Part 2 · Part 1 · Stealing $50K from a widow: Wells Real Estate · Leo Wells, REITs and divine wealth · Sex-crazed Red State teenagers · What I hate: a manifesto · Spawn of Darleen Druyun · All-American high school sex party · Why is Ken Lay smiling? · Poppy's Enron birthday party · The Saudi money laundry and the president's uncle · The sentence of Enron's John Forney · The holiness of Neil Bush's marriage · The Silence of Cheney: a poem · South Park Christians · Capitalist against Bush: Warren Buffett · Fastow childen vs. Enron children · Give your prescription money to your old boss · Neil Bush, hard-working matchmaker · Republicans against fetuses and pregnant women · Emboldened Ken Lay · Faith-based jails · Please die for me so I can skip your funeral · A brief illustrated history of the Republican Party · Nancy Victory · Soldiers become accountants · Beware the Merrill Lynch mob · Darleen Druyun's $5.7 billion surprise · First responder funding · Hoovering the country · First Command fifty percent load · Ken Lay and the Atkins diet · Halliburton WMD · Leave no CEO behind · August in Crawford · Elaine Pagels · Profitable slave labor at Halliburton · Tom Hanks + Mujahideen · Sharon & Neilsie Bush · One weekend a month, or eternity · Is the US pumping Iraqi oil to Kuwait? · Cheney's war · Seth Glickenhaus: Capitalist against Bush · Martha's blow job · Mark Belnick: Tyco Catholic nut · Cheney's deferred Halliburton compensation · Jeb sucks sugar cane · Poindexter & LifeLog · American Family Association panic · Riley Bechtel and the crony economy · The Book of Sharon (Bush) · The Art of Enron · Plunder convention · Waiting in Kuwait: Jay Garner · What's an Army private worth? · Barbara Bodine, Queen of Baghdad · Sneaky bastards at Halliburton · Golf course and barbecue military strategy · Enron at large · Recent astroturf · Cracker Chic 2 · No business like war business · Big Brother · Martha Stewart vs. Thomas White · Roger Kimball, disappointed Republican poetry fan · Cheney, Lay, Afghanistan · Terry Lynn Barton, crimes of burning · Feasting at the Cheney trough · Who would Jesus indict? · Return of the Carlyle Group · Duct tape is for little people · GOP and bad medicine · Sears Tower vs Mt Rushmore · Scared Christians · Crooked playing field · John O'Neill: The man who knew · Back to the top

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