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Above email address currently deprecated! Use gary underscore farber at yahoodotcom, pliz! Sanely free of McCarthyite calling anyone a traitor since 2001!
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I've a long record in editorial work in book and magazine publishing, starting 1974, a variety of other work experience, but have been, since 2001, recurringly housebound with insanely painful sporadic and unpredictably variable gout and edema, and in the past, other ailments; the future? The Great Unknown: isn't it for all of us?
I'm currently house/cat-sitting, not on any government aid yet (or mostly ever), often in major chronic pain from gout and edema, which variably can leave me unable to walk, including just standing, but sometimes is better, and is freaking unpredictable at present; I also have major chronic depression and anxiety disorders; I'm currently supported mostly by your blog donations/subscriptions; you can help me. I prefer to spread out the load, and lessen it from the few who have been doing more than their fair share for too long.
Thanks for any understanding and support. I know it's difficult to understand. And things will change. They always change.
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"The brain is wider than the sky, For, put them side by side,
The one the other will include With ease, and you beside"
-- Emily Dickinson
"We will pursue peace as if there is no terrorism and fight terrorism as if there is no peace."
-- Yitzhak Rabin
"I have thought it my duty to exhibit things as they are, not as they ought to be."
-- Alexander Hamilton
"The stakes are too high for government to be a spectator sport."
-- Barbara Jordan
"Under democracy, one party always devotes its chief energies to
trying to prove that the other party is unfit to rule --
and both commonly succeed, and are right."
-- H. L. Mencken
"Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom.
It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves."
-- William Pitt
"The only completely consistent people are the dead."
-- Aldous Huxley
"I have had my solutions for a long time; but I do not yet know how I am to arrive at them."
-- Karl F. Gauss
"Whatever evils either reason or declamation have imputed to extensive empire,
the power of Rome was attended with some beneficial consequences to mankind;
and the same freedom of intercourse which extended the vices, diffused likewise
the improvements of social life."
-- Edward Gibbon
"Augustus was sensible that mankind is governed by names; nor was he deceived in his
expectation, that the senate and people would submit to slavery, provided they were
respectfully assured that they still enjoyed their ancient freedom."
-- Edward Gibbon
"There exists in human nature a strong propensity to depreciate the advantages, and to magnify
the evils, of the present times."
-- Edward Gibbon
"Our youth now loves luxuries. They have bad manners, contempt for authority.
They show disrespect for elders and they
love to chatter instead of exercise.
Children are now tyrants, not the servants, of their households. They
no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents,
chatter before company, gobble up their food, and tyrannize
"Before impugning an opponent's motives, even when they legitimately may be impugned, answer his arguments."
-- Sidney Hook
"Idealism, alas, does not protect one from ignorance, dogmatism, and foolishness."
-- Sidney Hook
"Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted."
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson
"We take, and must continue to take, morally hazardous actions to preserve our civilization.
We must exercise our power. But we ought neither to believe that a nation is capable of perfect
disinterestedness in its exercise, nor become complacent about particular degrees of interest
and passion which corrupt the justice by which the exercise of power is legitimized."
-- Reinhold Niebuhr
"Faced with the choice of all the land without a Jewish state or a Jewish state without all the
land, we chose a Jewish state without all the land."
-- David Ben-Gurion
"...the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence by laying upon him
an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this
or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages
to which, in common with his fellow citizens, he has a natural right; that it tends also
to corrupt the principles of that very religion it is meant to encourage, by bribing,
with a monopoly of worldly honours and emoluments, those who will externally profess
and conform to it;[...] that the opinions of men are not the object of civil government, nor under its jurisdiction; that to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion
and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency is a dangerous fallacy, which at once destroys all religious liberty....
-- Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, Thomas Jefferson
"We don't live just by ideas. Ideas are part of the mixture of customs and practices,
intuitions and instincts that make human life a conscious activity susceptible to
improvement or debasement. A radical idea may be healthy as a provocation;
a temperate idea may be stultifying. It depends on the circumstances. One of the most
tiresome arguments against ideas is that their 'tendency' is to some dire condition --
to totalitarianism, or to moral relativism, or to a war of all against all."
-- Louis Menand
"The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis."
-- Dante Alighieri
"He too serves a certain purpose who only stands and cheers."
-- Henry B. Adams
"The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the
poor to beg in the streets, steal bread, or sleep under a bridge."
-- Anatole France
"When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle."
-- Edmund Burke
"Education does not mean that we have become certified experts in business or mining or botany or journalism or epistemology;
it means that through the absorption of the moral, intellectual, and esthetic inheritance of the race we have come to
understand and control ourselves as well as the external world; that we have chosen the best as our associates both in spirit
and the flesh; that we have learned to add courtesy to culture, wisdom to knowledge, and forgiveness to understanding."
-- Will Durant
"Glimpses do ye seem to see of that mortally intolerable truth; that all deep, earnest thinking is
but the intrepid effort of the soul to keep the open independence of her sea; while the wildest
winds of heaven and earth conspire to cast her on the treacherous, slavish shore?"
-- Herman Melville
"The most important political office is that of the private citizen."
-- Louis D. Brandeis
"If we desire respect for the law, we must first make the law respectable."
-- Louis D. Brandeis
"We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both."
-- Louis D. Brandeis
"It is an error to suppose that books have no influence; it is a slow influence, like flowing water carving out a canyon,
but it tells more and more with every year; and no one can pass an hour a day in the society of sages and heroes without
being lifted up a notch or two by the company he has kept."
-- Will Durant
"When you write, you’re trying to transpose what you’re thinking into something that is less like an annoying drone and more like a piece of music."
-- Louis Menand
"Sex is a continuum."
-- Gore Vidal
"I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should
make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibit the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state."
-- Thomas Jefferson, letter to the Baptists of Danbury, Connecticut, 1802.
"The sum of our religion is peace and unanimity, but these can scarcely stand unless we define as little as possible,
and in many things leave one free to follow his own judgment, because there is great obscurity in many matters, and
man suffers from this almost congenital disease that he will not give in when once a controversy is started, and
after he is heated he regards as absolutely true that which he began to sponsor quite casually...."
-- Desiderius Erasmus
"Are we to have a censor whose imprimatur shall say what books may be sold, and what we may buy? And who is thus to dogmatize religious opinions for our citizens? Whose foot is to be the measure to which ours are all to be cut or stretched? Is a priest to be our inquisitor, or shall a layman, simple as ourselves, set up his reason as the rule of what we are to read, and what we must disbelieve?"
-- Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to N. G. Dufief, Philadelphia bookseller, 1814
"We are told that it is only people's objective actions that matter, and their subjective feelings are of no importance. Thus pacifists, by obstructing the war effort,
are 'objectively' aiding the Nazis; and therefore the fact that they may be personally hostile to Fascism is irrelevant. I have been guilty of saying this myself more than once. The same argument is applied to Trotskyism. Trotskyists are often credited, at any rate by Communists, with being active and conscious agents of Hitler; but when you point out the many and obvious reasons why this is unlikely to be true,
the 'objectively' line of talk is brought forward again. To criticize the Soviet Union helps Hitler: therefore 'Trotskyism is Fascism'. And when this has been established, the accusation of conscious treachery is usually repeated.
This is not only dishonest; it also carries a severe penalty with it. If you disregard people's motives, it becomes much harder to foresee their actions."
-- George Orwell, "As I Please," Tribune, 8 December 1944
"Wouldn't this be a great world if insecurity and desperation made us more attractive? If 'needy' were a turn-on?"
-- "Aaron Altman," Broadcast News
"The great thing about human language is that it prevents us from sticking to the matter at hand."
-- Lewis Thomas
"To be ignorant of what happened before you were born is to be ever a child. For what is man's lifetime unless the memory of past events is woven with those of earlier times?"
"Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it."
-- Samuel Johnson, Life Of Johnson
"Very well, what did my critics say in attacking my character? I must read out their affidavit, so to speak, as though they were my legal accusers: Socrates is guilty of criminal meddling, in that he inquires into things below the earth and in the sky, and makes the weaker argument defeat the stronger, and teaches others to follow his example."
-- Socrates, via Plato, The Republic
"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, represents, in the final analysis, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children."
-- Dwight D. Eisenhower
"The term, then, is obviously a relative one; my pedantry is your scholarship, his reasonable accuracy, her irreducible minimum of education, & someone else's ignorance."
-- H. W. Fowler
"Rules exist for good reasons, and in any art form the beginner must learn them and understand what they are for, then follow them for quite a while. A visual artist, pianist, dancer, fiction writer, all beginning artists are in the same boat here: learn the rules, understand them, follow them. It's called an apprenticeship. A mediocre artist never stops following the rules, slavishly follows guidelines, and seldom rises above mediocrity. An accomplished artist internalizes the rules to the point where they don't have to be consciously considered. After you've put in the time it takes to learn to swim, you never stop to think: now I move my arm, kick, raise my head, breathe. You just do it. The accomplished artist knows what the rules mean, how to use them, dodge them, ignore them altogether, or break them. This may be a wholly unconscious process of assimilation, one never articulated, but it has taken place."
-- Kate Wilhelm
"The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed."
-- Albert Einstein
"The decisive moment in human evolution is perpetual."
-- Franz Kafka, Aphorisms
"All of old. Nothing else ever. Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better."
-- Samuel Beckett, Worstward Ho
"First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you."
-- Nicholas Klein, May, 1919, to the Third Biennial Convention of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America (misattributed to Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, 1914 & variants).
"Our credulity is a part of the imperfection of our natures. It is inherent in us to desire to generalize, when we ought, on the contrary, to guard ourselves very carefully from this tendency."
-- Napoleon I of France.
"The truth is, men are very hard to know, and yet, not to be deceived, we must judge them by their present actions, but for the present only."
-- Napoleon I of France.
"The barbarous custom of having men beaten who are suspected of having important secrets to reveal must be abolished. It has always been recognized that this way of interrogating men, by putting them to torture, produces nothing worthwhile. The poor wretches say anything that comes into their mind and what they think the interrogator wishes to know."
-- On the subject of torture, in a letter to Louis Alexandre Berthier (11 November 1798), published in Correspondance Napoleon edited by Henri Plon (1861), Vol. V, No. 3606, p. 128
"All living souls welcome whatever they are ready to cope with; all else they ignore, or pronounce to be monstrous and wrong, or deny to be possible."
-- George Santayana, Dialogues in Limbo (1926)
"If you should put even a little on a little, and should do this often, soon this too would become big."
-- Hesiod, Work And Days
"Your Honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free."
-- Eugene V. Debs
"Reputation is what other people know about you. Honor is what you know about yourself."
-- Lois McMaster Bujold, A Civil Campaign
"All that we have to do is to send two mujahidin to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written "al-Qaida," in order to make the generals race there to cause America to suffer human, economic, and political losses without their achieving for it anything of note other than some benefits for their private companies."
-- Osama bin Laden
"Remember, Robin: evil is a pretty bad thing."
Gary Farber is now a licensed Quintuple Super-Sekrit Multi-dimensional Master Pundit.
He does not always refer to himself in the third person.
He is presently single.
The gefilte fish is dead. Donate via the donation button on the top left or I'll shoot this cutepanda. Don't you lovepandas?
Current Total # of Donations Since 2002: 1181
Subscribers to date at $5/month: 100 sign-ups; 91 cancellations; Total= 9
Supporter subscribers to date at $25/month: 16 sign-ups; 10 cancellation; Total= 6
Patron subscribers to date at $50/month: 20 sign-ups; 13 cancellations; Total= 7
...writer[s] I find myself checking out repeatedly when I'm in the mood to play follow-the-links. They're not all people I agree with all the time, or even most of the time, but I've found them all to be thoughtful writers, and that's the important thing, or should be.
-- Tom Tomorrow
I bow before the shrillitudinousness of Gary Farber, who has been blogging like a fiend.
-- Ted Barlow, Crooked Timber
Favorite.... [...] ...all great stuff. [...] Gary Farber should never be without readers.
I usually read you and Patrick several times a day, and I always get something from them. You've got great links, intellectually honest commentary, and a sense of humor. What's not to like?
-- Ted Barlow
One of my issues with many poli-blogs is the dickhead tone so many bloggers affect to express their sense of righteous indignation. Gary Farber's thoughtful leftie takes on the world stand in sharp contrast with the usual rhetorical bullying. Plus, he likes "Pogo," which clearly attests to his unassaultable good taste.
Jaysus. I saw him do something like this before, on a thread about Israel. It was pretty brutal. It's like watching one of those old WWF wrestlers grab an opponent's
face and grind away until the guy starts crying. I mean that in a nice & admiring way, you know.
-- Fontana Labs, Unfogged
We read you Gary Farber! We read you all the time! Its just that we are lazy with our blogroll. We are so very very lazy. We are always the last ones to the party but we always have snazzy bow ties.
-- Fafnir, Fafblog!
Gary Farber you are a genius of mad scientist proportions. I will bet there are like huge brains growin in jars all over your house.
-- Fafnir, Fafblog!
Gary Farber is the hardest working man in show blog business. He's like a young Gene Hackman blogging with his hair on fire, or something.
-- Belle Waring, John & Belle Have A Blog
Gary Farber only has two blogging modes: not at all, and 20 billion interesting posts a day [...] someone on the interweb whose opinions I can trust....
-- Belle Waring, John & Belle Have A Blog
Isn't Gary a cracking blogger, apropos of nothing in particular?
-- Alison Scott
Gary Farber takes me to task, in a way befitting the gentleman he is.
-- Stephen Green, Vodkapundit
My friend Gary Farber at Amygdala is the sort of liberal for whom I happily give three cheers. [...] Damned incisive blogging....
-- Midwest Conservative Journal
If I ever start a paper, Clueless writes the foreign affairs column, Layne handles the city beat, Welch has the roving-reporter job, Tom Tomorrow runs the comic section (which carries Treacher, of course). MediaMinded runs the slots - that's the type of editor I want as the last line of defense. InstantMan runs the edit page - and you can forget about your Ivins and Wills and Friedmans and Teepens on the edit page - it's all Blair, VodkaP, C. Johnson, Aspara, Farber, Galt, and a dozen other worthies, with Justin 'I am smoking in such a provocative fashion' Raimondo tossed in for balance and comic relief.
Who wouldn't buy that paper? Who wouldn't want to read it? Who wouldn't climb over their mother to be in it?
-- James Lileks
I do appreciate your role and the role of Amygdala as a pioneering effort in the integration of fanwriters with social conscience into the larger blogosphere of social conscience.
-- Lenny Bailes
Every single post in that part of Amygdala visible on my screen is either funny or bracing or important. Is it always like this? -- Natalie Solent
People I've known and still miss include Isaac Asimov, rich brown, Charles Burbee, F. M. "Buzz" Busby, Terry Carr, A. Vincent Clarke, Bob Doyle, George Alec Effinger, Abi Frost,
Bill & Sherry Fesselmeyer, George Flynn, John Milo "Mike" Ford. John Foyster, Mike Glicksohn, Jay Haldeman, Neith Hammond (Asenath Katrina Hammond)/DominEditrix , Chuch Harris, Mike Hinge, Lee Hoffman, Terry Hughes, Damon Knight, Ross Pavlac, Bruce Pelz, Elmer Perdue, Tom Perry,
Larry Propp, Bill Rotsler, Art Saha, Bob Shaw, Martin Smith, Harry Stubbs, Bob Tucker, Harry Warner, Jr., Jack Williamson, Walter A. Willis, Susan Wood, Kate Worley, and Roger Zelazny.
It's just a start, it only gets longer, many are unintentionally left out.
And She of whom I must write someday.
The two men showed up on Tuesday afternoon to evict Suaada Saadoun’s family. One was carrying a shiny black pistol.
Ms. Saadoun was a Sunni Arab living in a Shiite enclave of western Baghdad. A widowed mother of seven, she and her family had been chased out once before. This time, she called American and Kurdish soldiers at a base less than a mile to the east.
The men tried to drive away, but the soldiers had blocked the street. They pulled the men out of the car.
“If anything happens to us, they’re the ones responsible,” said Ms. Saadoun, 49, a burly, boisterous woman in a black robe and lavender-blue head scarf.
The Americans shoved the men into a Humvee. Neighbors clapped and cheered as if their soccer team had just won a title.
The next morning, Ms. Saadoun was shot dead while walking by a bakery in the local market.
After the police took the body away, all that remained in the alleyway was a pool of blood, a bullet casing and the upper half of Ms. Saadoun’s set of false teeth.
Captain Morales heard the news about Ms. Saadoun the next day around noon. She had been shot in the market earlier that morning, just northeast of the base and within spitting distance of the same checkpoint where the two Shiite men had been stopped. The captain paced around the hallway inside his command center. His face was ashen.
“What can you do?” his first sergeant said to him. “It’s their problem. This is their country, and they need to work it out among themselves. There’s nothing we can do about it.”
If that's true, what are we doing there? If it's not true, why isn't Ms. Saddoun still around to say so?
Were Iraq as small as Bosnia, or Kosovo, that would be one thing. But the scale is another.
[...] Now there were three Sunni Arab households left in the neighborhood.
"There’s nothing we can do about it," says the sergeant.
NEW YORK -- A planned Holy Week exhibition of a nude, anatomically correct chocolate sculpture of Jesus Christ was canceled Friday after Cardinal Edward Egan and other outraged Catholics complained.
The "My Sweet Lord" display was shut down by the hotel that houses the Lab Gallery in midtown Manhattan. Roger Smith Hotel president James Knowles cited the public outcry for his decision.
But word of the confectionary Christ infuriated Catholics, including Egan, who described it as "a sickening display." Bill Donohue, head of the watchdog Catholic League, said it was "one of the worst assaults on Christian sensibilities ever."
So, when asked, Bill Donohue feels that a chocolate nude Jesus is a far worse thing to happen to Christians than this. Or this. Or this.
Definitely chocolate Jesus is the worst assault evah on Christian sensibilities.
As understood by Bill Donohue, expert on that which is sickening.
Closing detail on the art:
[...] The sculpture was to debut Monday evening, the day after Palm Sunday and just four days before Christians mark the crucifixion of Jesus Christ on Good Friday. The final day of the exhibit was planned for Easter Sunday.
The artwork was created from more than 200 pounds of milk chocolate, and features Christ with his arms outstretched as if on an invisible cross. Unlike the typical religious portrayal of Christ, the Cavallaro creation does not include a loincloth.
[...] Cavallaro is best known for his quirky work with food as art: Past efforts include repainting a Manhattan hotel room in melted mozzarella, spraying five tons of pepper jack cheese on a Wyoming home, and festooning a four-poster bed with 312 pounds of processed ham.
Much more appealing if it were real ham. With swiss cheese, and a little spicy mustard.
OTHER COALITION FORCES. Gotta love your military acronyms and euphemisms. William Arkin looks atBarry McCaffrey's latest report, and notices this on Special Operations:
[...] Buried in the candid assessment of the war and its prospects is a rare reference to what the U.S. government euphemistically calls Other Coalition Forces-Iraq (OCF-I), the group of clandestine special operators who operate semi-independently in pursuit of high value targets.
Adopting the name "OCF" or "other coalition forces" to mirror the CIA's paramilitary units, often innocuously referred to as "OGA" or "other government agencies," the United States has developed a cadre of terrorist-hunters in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Horn of Africa. All are part of the North Carolina-based Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).
JSOC's various task forces have been known by numerous names since Sept. 11, Task Force (TF) 11, TF 121, TF 145, and TF 6-26. They have also gone by other named designations, such as Task Force Omaha. These Task Force designations change periodically for "operational security" reasons and are used to identify specific country and/or unit deployments.
According to military sources familiar with special operations organization, the current designations are Task Force 11-9, Task Force 16, and Task Force 373. Task Force 88 is also used as the overall designation for JSOC in Iraq, seemingly synonymous with OCF-I, except that OCF describes the headquarters element and includes non-U.S. forces such as British SAS rather than the assigned units.
The units assigned to the OCF and making up the Task Forces are Army "Delta Force" and Navy SEAL teams, as well as various Air Force special operators and specialized clandestine intelligence units (often referred to as "Gray Fox"). These are the "Tier 1" units.
Tier 2 units, those that operate in support of JSOC and the Task Forces, include Army Rangers and special operations helicopters.
The best estimate is that there are a total of some 1,000 soldiers and civilians assigned to JSOC and its subordinate units, including a large headquarters staff comprising significant intelligence analysis and mission-preparation capabilities.
(The vast bulk of special operations forces are in the "white" world of Special Forces (Green Berets), SEALs, Air Force special operations, psychological operations and civil affairs, even Army Rangers when not assigned to clandestine missions.)
Here's what Gen. McCaffrey says about the current OCF effort in Iraq:
"The US Tier One special operations capability is simply magic. They are deadly in getting their target--with normally zero collateral damage--and with minimal friendly losses or injuries. Some of these assault elements have done 200-300 takedown operations at platoon level. The comprehensive intelligence system is phenomenal. We need to re-think how we view these forces. They are a national strategic system akin to a B1 bomber. We need to understand that the required investment level in the creation of these forces demands substantial dedicated UAV systems, intelligence, and communications resources. These special operations formations cannot by themselves win the nation's wars. However, with them we have a tool of enormous and decisive strategic significance which has crucial importance in the global war on terrorists."
McCaffrey has every reason to be impressed given the small size of the U.S. "black" effort in Iraq, probably no more than 200 core operatives and intelligence personnel.
The elite cannot, as McCaffrey says "win the nation's wars" all by themselves, but we know so little about what they actually do and what it is they have actually accomplished against what targets, it is hard to assess whether an OCF and OGA effort is the future of the "war" against terrorism or whether it is just counter-terrorism on a treadmill.
Yeah, that's the problem with all-secret-ops, all-the-time: they definitionally can't be evaluated outside the system, and certainly not by the public.
One shouldn't be for this stuff simply because it's kewl, and you like 24, and trust the government with the power to kidnap, imprison, kill, and keep it all secret; neither should one assume it's all evil and doing nothing but torture, and rounding up innocent people: but how can it be examined and judged in a democratic society, outside of putting a lot of trust in your reigning politicians to understake wise, thorough, and effective oversight?
I should incidentally thank the folks, including LizardBreath and Moshe Feder, who e-mailed me about the Amygdaloids, who sadly reside behind the paywall, with no access via the link generator.
You probably read this piece about the basis of moral judgment in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, I expect; if you didn't, I won't countenance your death because of it.
Did you catch this one from early February about the insula?
[...] For example, the insula “lights up” in brain scans when people crave drugs, feel pain, anticipate pain, empathize with others, listen to jokes, see disgust on someone’s face, are shunned in a social settings, listen to music, decide not to buy an item, see someone cheat and decide to punish them, and determine degrees of preference while eating chocolate.
Damage to the insula can lead to apathy, loss of libido and an inability to tell fresh food from rotten.
The bottom line, according to Dr. Paulus and others, is that mind and body are integrated in the insula. It provides unprecedented insight into the anatomy of human emotions.
I must bottle more brains, and study this further.
I wanted to say something clever and self-referential about Douglas Hofstadter's I Am A Strange Loop, or at least this review of it, but I'm dry at the moment, so I'll just point.
Nearly four years after Congress pulled the plug on what critics assailed as an Orwellian scheme to spy on private citizens, Singapore is set to launch an even more ambitious incarnation of the Pentagon's controversial Total Information Awareness program -- an effort to collect and mine data across all government agencies in the hopes of pinpointing threats to national security.
The Singapore prototype of the system -- dubbed Risk Assessment and Horizon Scanning, or RAHS -- was rolled out early this week at a conference in the Southeast Asia city-state. Retired U.S. Adm. John Poindexter, the architect of the original Pentagon program, traveled to Singapore to deliver a speech at the unveiling, while backers have already begun quietly touting the system to U.S. intelligence officials.
While the controversial Darpa efforts were never more than research, RAHS is set to launch with five different agencies in September. Eventually, RAHS would extend across Singapore's entire government, a plan that makes it the most ambitious data-snooping effort in the world.
The conference follows a visit to Washington, D.C., the first week in March by a Singapore delegation to discuss RAHS with U.S. intelligence and Homeland Security officials. The Singaporeans had on their agenda meetings with Charles Allen, DHS' assistant secretary for intelligence and analysis, and Patrick Neary, strategy chief for National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell, according to the PR firm hired by the Singapore government to publicize the trip, though the planned meeting with Neary didn't take place. Neither DHS nor the Office of the Director of National Intelligence would comment on their interest in the program.
Poindexter, who was also on the roster of people the Singaporeans were scheduled to meet with in the United States, never quite disappeared from the data-mining scene. In January of this year, he was elected to the board of BrightPlanet, a firm that boasts "the most powerful search, harvest and document federation technology available in the world." The company's press release announcing Poindexter's appointment noted the former national security adviser would "provide guidance in developing further contacts within the intelligence community."
The Wired front page has a new beta design, by the way. Amongst the usual welter of news interesting and not-so-much, I liked this post by Noah Shachtman about DARPA's Augmented Cognition (AugCog) research, and its mainstreaming into other military agencies (and, as Noah points out, of course inevitably streaming into civilian life in a few years, as well). His nutshell:
The U.S. military is working on computers than can scan your mind and adapt to what you're thinking.
They're reporting astonishing early results, although it's impossible to say how much or little of the usual bullshit optimism about tech developments is being applied.
I do slightly regret not making the AugCog article its own post, so I could have a header about Navy Commander Dylan Schmorrow entitled "Tomorrow, Schmorrow!"
Read The Rest Scale: 3.5 out of 5 for the latter; 3 out of 5 for Singapore.
Someone should tell the Wired copyeditors, though, that "a quantum leap" does not mean "twice as fast." Block that metaphor! (Note to everyone: it doesn't mean "a big jump," either.)
TOP TEN REASONS GROWN-UPS ARE IDIOTS. For god's sakes, they really are; just look at this:
TWO teenagers in Jonesboro, Ark., were overheard at a party last month bragging about a “hit list” and their plans to take a gun to school and use it on their enemies.
The plans circulated through the high school and made their way to the sheriff. The boys, 16 and 17, were arrested two weeks ago and charged with making “terroristic threats” and possessing a stolen pistol.
No hit list was found, but in other cases at schools across the country, hit lists have fallen out of lockers, been scrawled on bathroom walls and have made the rounds like hot gossip among teenagers in Web videos and on blogs.
For reasons that are largely unclear to the authorities, the lists have gained toxic traction with a sub-set of students even as rates of school violence have dropped significantly since the early 1990s. Education and law enforcement officials say it is hard to know in any given case whether students write the lists as an actual blueprint for deadly action or to simply attract attention, amuse themselves, act out bravado or bully other students.
But it requires only the faintest lick of sense, and connection to reality, to know that 99.9999% of the time, it's just a fucking doodled list.
Our culture has been producing magazines filled with "Ten Things You Can Do To Drive Your Man Wild!" and "Twenty New Things To Do With Your Hair!" and "Fifteen Exciting New Throw Rug Designs!" and every sort of possible other list, emblazoned across eighty-seven gazillion magazine covers every week, for the better part of a century.
This is a mystery only to someone who has never been on a supermarket cashier's line.
We're also a culture where, for hundreds of years, kids have always doodled on their textbooks, in their notebooks, on their desks, and everyone else. Amazingly, grown-ups do this in meetings, too!
Because, along with doodling about who people love and fantasize about, people also doodle, and some people (not me, as it happens, but I'm an outlier in innumerable ways) make lists of, those they hate.
But nowadays, if a kid does it, let alone on MySpace, or in a blog, or e-mail, or online, it's inexplicable:
“I wish I knew what was going on at this particular moment,” said Charles P. Ewing, a professor of law and psychology at the State University of New York at Buffalo and the author of “Kids Who Kill.” “It’s like a fad. Something sets it off. One student does it. Other students do it. It becomes something that’s popular to do.”
Who could explain this?!?! Where does this strange "listing" behavior come from? It's so antithetical to the way normal people behave.
Oh, wait, it's not. It's completely normal.
And you have to either be deeply stupid and blind, or be deeply mentally affected by some sort of crazed paranoia about adolescents, or something, to not observe this.
So we get news reports such as this:
Around the time of the Arkansas incident, school officials in Berlin, Mass., found a “kill list” and a “protect list” written by a sixth-grade boy. And in Belvidere, Ill., a small town northwest of Chicago near Wisconsin, school officials said tragedy was averted when they found a hit list in a locker before its plan could be put into action.
True? False? Impossible to know without details about the individual cases. Obviously, there are a handful of cases that truly warrant concern every year.
But we have over three hundred million people in this country. If a dozen kids a year turn to actual gun violence, this is not a serious problem. It's simply an artifact of modern communications allowing many to know of these immensely few number of actual dangerous kids.
And presuming that millions of kids, acting normally in doodling lists, and confiding who they love or who they hate, whether to themselves, or a piece of paper, or a computer screen, or a friend, or to a stranger, are all psychotically nuts is, well, psychotically nuts.
Some students say the lists are simply about stress release and the convergence of their generation’s penchants for catharsis and publicity.
“If you’re going to release stress, you might as well do it by writing a list and talking about it rather than going out to hurt someone,” said Rachel Tingley, 17, a high school junior from Chicago. “I know people who have problems with anger who do things like lists. They haven’t been serious.”
But you have to go to the 17-year-old to find it.
[...] “I’ve seen where kids see it as a badge of honor to be on a list,” said the official, William Modzeleski, a deputy secretary in the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools in Washington. “There is sort of a nonchalance about it.” In other words, if students do not end up on a hate list, they must not be worth thinking about.
As these cases have become more common, the Education Department has repeated its official stance on the subject: zero tolerance. Mr. Modzeleski pointed out that the writing of hit lists was a violation of the law. “Schools and law enforcement have made it clear that threats will be taken seriously,” he said. “But for whatever reason, kids ignore the lesson.”
For whatever reason. I say we start searching the trashcans and hard drives of every white collar worker in the land, just like we search the lockers of students, and arresting every adult we find any words or drawings from that can be interpreted as "threatening."
Zero tolerance: it's the only way to be safe.
Read The Rest Scale: 3 out of 5. Tell me again why adults shouldn't be seen by kids as fucking morons?
[...] Officials also noted that there was not a strong correlation between the threats and actual violence. Most students who have killed other students did not prepare and distribute hit lists in advance, the officials said.
[...] “I do not think kids realize the serious nature of it,” said Sol Rappaport, a clinical psychologist who performs violence risk assessments for schools in Libertyville, Ill. “When I questioned the ones who had done it, they said, ‘I was mad, but just because I hate them doesn’t mean I’m going to do it.’ ”
Clearly, they must be lying, based on the hundreds of schools across America with shootings every day.
ADDENDUM, 3/28/07, 2:43 p.m.: Rereading this, I realize that a point I didn't make explicit is the corrupting and distorting effect of the near-industry that violence-prevention-in-the-schools has become. Libertarians in particular might want to note that when one institutionalizes prevention bureaucracies, said bureaucracies always find what they're looking for, whether it's there or not.
3/22/2007 08:35:00 AM |permanent link | Main Page | Tweet |
The issue is that sorta-remarkably, but sorta-not, Utah passed a law last month (while I wasn't looking) that goes into effect next week that requires high school clubs to jump through various hoops, and "specifically bans any discussion by any club of 'human sexuality.'"
The target? Gay-straight clubs, of course. What else?
My favorite part?
[...] But Mr. Buttars said his bill was intended to bring uniformity to the rules. The centerpiece, he said, is a clause giving school administrators the authority to ensure that clubs do not violate “the boundaries of socially appropriate behavior.”
“If a gay-straight club wants to meet together, as they say they do, just for friendship, I have no problem with that,” Mr. Buttars said. “But I think school districts should have the authority to do whatever they need to do protect their schools — the law gives them authority to make decisions to protect the physical, emotional, psychological or moral well being of students.”
All of this is awesome, but it just goes to show how out of touch I am on this that this is the first time I've noticed, among the attacks on gay-straight high school clubs, the allegation (italics mine) that such clubs are just fronts for, nudge, nudge, wink, wink, finding/having gay sex.
But people like Buttars doubtless believe that such clubs, and gays generally, conduct seminars for straights that Lure Them Into That Irresistably Hott Gay Sex, as well as constantly providing an unbearable temptation of teh gay hottness.
More, earlier in the story:
[...] Next month, a 17-page law will take effect governing just about every nuance of public school extracurricular clubs, from kindergarten jump rope to high school drama. How groups can form, what they can discuss in their meetings, who can join, and what a principal must do if rules are violated are addressed.
But the school clubs law, signed last week by Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., was not really intended to rein in the rowdies down at the audio-visual club, some lawmakers said. The real target was homosexuality.
“This is all about gay-straight alliance clubs, and anybody who tells you different is lying,” said State Senator Scott D. McCoy, Democrat from Salt Lake City, who voted against the law.
State Senator D. Chris Buttars, a Republican from the Salt Lake City suburbs and the law’s co-sponsor, said in an interview that he saw the need for the measure after parents from a high school in Provo, Utah, protested the formation of a gay-straight club in 2005.
Yes, it's terribly inconvenient that there were no legal grounds allowing the parents to do that.
And, darn it, "miscegenation" is legal now, too.
The saving irony here?
[...] In a paradoxical twist missed by almost nobody in the clubs debate, the federal equal access law was co-sponsored by United States Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah, to make sure that religious and Bible study groups were not discriminated against by secular-minded principals.
The same protections mean that gay-straight alliances cannot be singled out, legal experts say, which is why the rules in the new schools law must be applied across the board to all clubs, no matter what they do or who joins them.
Well, you know, freedom isn't free.
But all isn't roses; along with making it more onerous for all clubs, the law does have this seriously insane part:
[...] It mandates that any student joining any club needs a parent’s signature — though most public schools in Utah require that already — and specifically bans any discussion by any club of “human sexuality.”
The law defines that term to mean “advocating or engaging in sexual activity outside of legal recognized marriage or forbidden by state law,” and “presenting or discussing information relating to the use of contraceptive devices.”
So that's pretty nasty, though once again, religious/moralizing conservatives pass a law that will increase unwanted teenage pregnancies, and STDs: good job, as always.
Read The Rest Scale: 3 out of 5 for a tiny bit of cheer about how some high school students organized against the law, and got some modifications, at least, before it passed.
[...] All instruction related to human sexuality and/or sexual activity will take place within the context of Utah State Law (53A-13-101) and Utah State Board of Education rule (R277-474) as follows: • The public schools will teach sexual abstinence before marriage and fidelity after marriage. • There will be prior parental consent before teaching any aspect of contraception and/or condoms. • Students will learn about communicable diseases, including those transmitted sexually, and HIV/AIDS.
Program materials and guest speakers supporting instruction on these topics have been reviewed and approved by the local district review committee.
The following are NOT approved by the State Board of Education for instruction and may not be taught: • The intricacies of intercourse, sexual stimulation or erotic behavior; • The advocacy of homosexuality; • The advocacy or encouragement of the use of contraceptive methods or devices; • The advocacy of sexual activity outside of marriage.
In accordance with Utah State Board of Education Rule R277-474-6-D, teachers may respond to spontaneous student questions for the purposes of providing accurate data or correcting inaccurate or misleading information or comments made by students in class regarding human sexuality.
WE GOTTA GET OUTA THIS PLACE. We have a moral obligation to save the Iraqis who have worked for Americans in Iraq; we have many moral obligations, and failures, but that's the least we can do.
George Packer's latest is very long, and mind-wrenchingly tragic, although the deaths of so many, so unnecessarily, is beyond tragedy and into criminal.
You may think you know all you need to know about the Iraqis who have worked for the Americans, but everyone should read this whole piece; excerpts will be either too long, or too short, but I'll give some nonetheless.
[...] House by house, Baghdad was being abandoned. Othman was considering his options: move his parents from their house (in an insurgent stronghold) to his sister’s house (in the midst of civil war); move his parents and brothers to Syria (where there was no work) and live with his friend in Jordan (going crazy with boredom while watching his savings dwindle); go to London and ask for asylum (and probably be sent back); stay in Baghdad for six more months until he could begin a scholarship that he’d won, to study journalism in America (or get killed waiting).
From the hotel window, Othman could see the palace domes of the Green Zone directly across the Tigris River. “It’s sad,” he told me. “With all the hopes that we had, and all the dreams, I was totally against the word ‘invasion.’ Wherever I go, I was defending the Americans and strongly saying, ‘America was here to make a change.’ Now I have my doubts.”
Laith was more blunt: “Sometimes, I feel like we’re standing in line for a ticket, waiting to die.”
But the mostly young men and women who embraced America’s project so enthusiastically that they were prepared to risk their lives for it may constitute Iraq’s smallest minority. I came across them in every city: the young man in Mosul who loved Metallica and signed up to be a translator at a U.S. Army base; the DVD salesman in Najaf whose plans to study medicine were crushed by Baath Party favoritism, and who offered his services to the first American Humvee that entered his city. They had learned English from American movies and music, and from listening secretly to the BBC. Before the war, their only chance at a normal life was to flee the country—a nearly impossible feat. Their future in Saddam’s Iraq was, as the Metallica fan in Mosul put it, “a one-way road leading to nothing.” I thought of them as oddballs, like misunderstood high-school students whose isolation ends when they go off to college. In a similar way, the four years of the war created intense friendships, but they were forged through collective disappointment. The arc from hope to betrayal that traverses the Iraq war is nowhere more vivid than in the lives of these Iraqis. America’s failure to understand, trust, and protect its closest friends in Iraq is a small drama that contains the larger history of defeat.
In 2003, soon after the arrival of the Americans, soldiers in his neighborhood persuaded him to work as an interpreter with the 82nd Airborne Division. He wore a U.S. Army uniform and a bandanna, and during interrogations he used broken Arabic in order to make prisoners think he was American. Although the work was not yet dangerous, an instinct led him to mask his identity and keep his job to himself around the neighborhood. Ali found that, although many soldiers were friendly, they often ignored information and advice from their Iraqi employees. Interpreters would give them names of insurgents, and nothing would happen. When Ali suggested that soldiers buy up locals’ rocket-propelled grenade launchers so that they would not fall into the hands of insurgents, he was disregarded. When interpreters drove onto the base, their cars were searched, and at the end of their shift they would sometimes find their car doors unlocked or a mirror broken—the cars had been searched again. “People came with true faces to the Americans, with complete loyalty,” Ali said. “But, from the beginning, they didn’t trust us.”
Ali initially worked the night shift at a base in his neighborhood and walked home by himself after midnight. In June, 2003, the Americans mounted a huge floodlight at the front gate of the base, and when Ali left for home the light projected his shadow hundreds of feet down the street. “It’s dangerous,” he told the soldiers at the gate. “Can’t you turn it off when we go out?”
“Don’t be scared,” the soldiers told him. “There’s a sniper protecting you all the way.”
A couple of weeks later, one of Ali’s Iraqi friends was hanging out with the snipers in the tower, and he thanked them. “For what?” the snipers asked. For looking out for us, Ali’s friend said. The snipers didn’t know what he was talking about, and when he told them they started laughing.
“We got freaked out,” Ali said. The message was clear: You Iraqis are on your own.
Bremer and his advisers—Scott Carpenter, Meghan O’Sullivan, and Roman Martinez—were creating an interim constitution and negotiating the transfer of power to Iraqis, but they did not speak Arabic and had no background in the Middle East. The Iraqis they spent time with were, for the most part, returned exiles with sectarian agendas. The Americans had little sense of what ordinary Iraqis were experiencing, and they seemed oblivious of a readily available source of knowledge: the Iraqi employees who had lived in Baghdad for years, and who went home to its neighborhoods every night. “These people would consider themselves too high to listen to a translator,” Firas said. “Maybe they were interested more in telling D.C. what they want to hear instead of telling them what the Iraqis are saying.”
Beals quit the foreign service after almost two years in Iraq and is now studying history at Columbia University. He said that, with Americans in Baghdad coming and going every six or twelve months, “the lowest rung on your ladder ends up being the real institutional memory and repository of expertise—which is always a tension, because it’s totally at odds with their status.” The inversion of the power relationship between American officials and Iraqi employees became more dramatic as the dangers increased and American civilians lost almost all mobility around Baghdad. Beals said, “There aren’t many people with pro-American eyes and the means to get their message across who can go into Sadr City and tell you what’s happening day to day.”
In Mosul, insurgents circulated a DVD showing the decapitations of two military interpreters. American soldiers stationed there expressed sympathy to their Iraqi employees, but, one interpreter told me, there was “no real reaction”: no offer of protection, in the form of a weapons permit or a place to live on base. He said, “The soldiers I worked with were friends and they felt sorry for us—they were good people—but they couldn’t help. The people above them didn’t care. Or maybe the people above them didn’t care.” This story repeated itself across the country: Iraqi employees of the U.S. military began to be kidnapped and killed in large numbers, and there was essentially no American response. Titan Corporation, of Chantilly, Virginia, which until December held the Pentagon contract for employing interpreters in Iraq, was notorious among Iraqis for mistreating its foreign staff. I spoke with an interpreter who was injured in a roadside explosion; Titan refused to compensate him for the time he spent recovering from second-degree burns on his hands and feet. An Iraqi woman working at an American base was recognized by someone she had known in college, who began calling her with death threats. She told me that when she went to the Titan representative for help he responded, “You have two choices: move or quit.” She told him that if she quit and stayed home, her life would be in danger. “That’s not my business,” the representative said. (A Titan spokesperson said, “The safety and welfare of all employees, including, of course, contract workers, is the highest priority.”)
It’s as if the Americans never imagined that the intimidation and murder of interpreters by other Iraqis would undermine the larger American effort, by destroying the confidence of Iraqis who wanted to give it support. The problem was treated as managerial, not moral or political.
Negroponte had barely expressed his condolences when Firas, Ahmed, and their colleagues pressed him with a single request. They wanted identification that would allow them to enter the Green Zone through the priority lane that Americans with government clearance used, instead of having to wait every morning for an hour or two in a very long line with every other Iraqi who had business in the Green Zone. This line was an easy target for suicide bombers and insurgent lookouts (known in Iraq as alaasa — “chewers”). Iraqis at the Embassy had been making this request for some time, without success. “Our problem is badges,” the Iraqis told the Ambassador.
Negroponte sent for the Embassy’s regional security officer, John Frese. “Here’s the man who is responsible for badges,” Negroponte said, and left.
According to the Iraqis, they asked Frese for green badges, which were a notch below the official blue American badges. These allowed the holder to enter through the priority lane and then be searched inside the gate.
“I can’t give you that,” Frese said.
“Because it says ‘Weapon permit: yes.’ ”
“Change the ‘yes’ to ‘no’ for us.”
Frese’s tone was peremptory: “I can’t do that.”
Ahmed made another suggestion: allow the Iraqis to use their Embassy passes to get into the priority lane. Frese again refused. Ahmed turned to one of his colleagues and said, in Arabic, “We’re blowing into a punctured bag.”
When I recently asked a senior government official in Washington about the badges, he insisted, “They are concerns that have been raised, addressed, and satisfactorily resolved. We acted extremely expeditiously.” In fact, the matter was left unresolved for almost two years, until late 2006, when verbal instructions were given to soldiers at the gates of the Green Zone to let Iraqis with Embassy passes into the priority lane—and even then individual soldiers, among whom there was rapid turnover, often refused to do so.
Americans and Iraqis recalled the meeting as the moment when the Embassy’s local employees began to be disenchanted. If Negroponte had taken an interest, he could have pushed Frese to change the badges. But a diplomat doesn’t rise to Negroponte’s stature by busying himself with small-bore details, and without his directive the rest of the bureaucracy wouldn’t budge.
Packer gives story after story after story. Heartbreaking. Enraging. Heartbreaking.
Read The Rest Scale: 6 out of 5. We need to give thousands more visas; immediately. Before we use the helicopters.
ROMNEY REACHES NEW HEIGHTS IN BUNGLING HIS PANDERING. Maybe there's a gene that runs in his family for gaffes during Presidential runs?
People chuckled when presidential candidate Mitt Romney, a Mormon raised in Michigan and elected in Massachusetts, bungled the names of Cuban-American politicians during a recent speech in Miami.
But when he mistakenly associated Fidel Castro's trademark speech-ending slogan -- Patria o muerte, venceremos! -- with a free Cuba, listeners didn't laugh. They winced.
Castro has closed his speeches with the phrase -- in English, ''Fatherland or death, we shall overcome'' -- for decades.
''Clearly, that's something he was ill-advised on or didn't do his homework on,'' said Hialeah City Council President Esteban Bovo. ``When you get cute with slogans, you get yourself into a trap.''
Romney's fumble demonstrates the potential snags for state and national politicians trying to navigate the Cuban-American community of South Florida.
Romney delivered a speech to the Miami-Dade Republican Party March 9 that was heavy on anti-communist rhetoric but light on policy details. He also condemned the Venezuelan president who has embraced Castro. That's when he tripped.
''Hugo Chávez has tried to steal an inspiring phrase -- Patria o muerte, venceremos,'' Romney said. ``It does not belong to him. It belongs to a free Cuba.''
No, it doesn't, said University of Miami Professor Jaime Suchlicki.
`BELONGS TO FIDEL'
''It belongs to Fidel,'' said Suchlicki, an expert on Cuban history. ``I don't know where [Romney] got that.''
The Romney campaign did not explain how the words got into the speech.
Romney punctuated his speech with ''Libertad, libertad, libertad!'' to show his support for freedom in Cuba. But to some, he was echoing a line from Scarface, a movie notorious for its stereotyped portrayal of Cuban immigrants.
State Rep. Rene Garcia, for one, said he was ''unimpressed.'' The Hialeah Republican grimaced when Romney called the state House Speaker ''Mario Rubio'' -- his first name is Marco -- and mispronounced the names of U.S. Reps. Mario and Lincoln Diaz-Balart.
''He used the Cuba issue way too much,'' Garcia said. ``I don't want to judge a man based on one speech alone, but it bothered me that he didn't get the names right.''
If you love to travel and can roll with the punches as well as the waves, shipping out on Semester at Sea (SAS) may be your job of a lifetime. Three times a year, intrepid librarians set out on voyages around the world on board the 23,000- ton SS Universe Explorer. For 100 days the Universe serves as the floating campus for approximately 650 undergraduates, 60 faculty and staff and their dependents, 30 senior passengers, and 125 officers and crew.
Each voyage includes visits to nine to ten countries located throughout Africa, Asia, Europe, and Latin America. The destinations are very different from the usual cruise ship stops. The spring and fall voyages employ a head librarian, who must be from SAS’s academic sponsor, the University of Pittsburgh (UP), and an assistant librarian who can be from anywhere in the world.
Amusingly, the ship's library used to be a casino.
Failing that, the job part of this job sounds very dull, but living on a cruise ship might be intriguingly different for at least a while (how long?; I have no idea).
MEET ON THE LEDGE. In the "it's a small world" category of combinations of people one might not find obvious, Richard Thompson plays an instrumental tune for a documentary about Harlan Ellison (click on "Harlan's Bounce" for the Flash audio; if you like, also view the movie trailer, and/or a few excerpts).
Listen Or View The Rest Scale: hey, I don't think Richard Thompson has offended anyone lately, but I could be wrong.
AVOID USING ON SPIDERS. Woo doggy! I well recall the Atoms For Peace program, both from my childhood, which along with "duck and cover" drills under our desks at school, included filmstrips, and animated films, on Our Friend, The Atom, and the too-cheap-to-meter nuclear power that never quite made it down in price, and from later reading up on the history; an elementary school tour of the Indian Point nuclear plant, just north of NYC, was also memorable.
Tucked away in storage rooms at three San Antonio high schools sat nuclear dinosaurs of the Cold War, largely forgotten for decades among the beakers and microscopes cluttering nearby shelves.
That all changed early Sunday morning, when a crew from Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, flanked by school district and state health officials, converged on the schools to whisk the equipment away and transport it "to a secure location."
The removal was part of the Energy Department's Offsite Recovery Program, an operation set up in 1999 and bolstered significantly after 9-11 to recover radioactive material throughout the country.
What brought the crew to Brackenridge, Fox Tech and Lanier high schools were 31-year-old pieces of scientific equipment containing small but potent nuclear pellets encased within nearly a ton of lead and steel.
Each machine originally contained 400 curies of cesium-137 in a pellet roughly the size of a pen. Because the substance's half-life is 30 years, each now probably contains about 200 curies.
The equipment, called a gammator, is a 1,850-pound keg-like object that was used to irradiate items for school experiments. Somewhere between 120 and 140 of the gizmos were distributed to schools, hospitals and other institutions as part of the "Atoms for Peace" program started in the Eisenhower era to push the civilian use of nuclear energy.
Maybe you can find one used, if you look hard.
[...] According to the 1969 pamphlet supplied by the Radiation Machinery Corp., the "gamma irradiator" purported to "bring to the classroom the experimental capabilities of a nuclear laboratory" so "students may explore the burgeoning new applications and industries which rely on radiation to achieve results that cannot be obtained by any other means."
[...] In a specially constructed room in the main lab, we maintain a Model B Gammator Irradiator with a 400 curie source of Cs‑137. For this the school is licensed by the State, and I am named as the control operator on the license. The gammator is used by students to irradiate everything from seeds to non-living materials.
Also included in this list are several CDV‑700s, dosimeters, and chargers acquired from the Civil Defense.
Those dosimeters go well in a package deal with a Model B Gammator Irradiator.
A Tuskegee University employee uses a cutting torch to separate the steel base from a gammator recovered earlier this month at the Alabama college by the Laboratory's Off-Site Source Recovery Project. The gammator, which contains cesium-137, a high gamma-emitting isotope, was packed in a radioactive material shipping container for transport to a location in California. By the end of the 2005 fiscal year, the OSRP will have recovered all of this series of 13 excess and unwanted irradiators from various sites around the country.
Seems low, but who am I to say? More here. According to this report from May, 2006, 17 Gammators were recovered in 2005, mostly from high schools; hey, you never know when 3 more over-a-ton contraptions for irradiating things might turn up.
Some licensees were lost in the AEC/NRC shuffle
The effort here is under the Off-Site Source Recovery Project, and Steve Coll, from whom I first learned of the Gammator, reports a few other points of interest:
[...] On September 9, 2004, a division of Halliburton dispatched from Russia to Houston, via air freight, a diagnostic tool used in oil fields which contained eighteen and a half curies of americium-241. (A curie is a measure of radioactivity.) That much americium, a Department of Energy official said, “would make a pretty nasty dirty bomb.” The tool passed through Amsterdam and Luxembourg and then cleared Customs at John F. Kennedy International Airport on October 9th, where it was supposed to be picked up by a freight company and sent on to Houston. But the shipment disappeared. Nobody at Halliburton, which relied in part on outside shipping contractors, noticed that it was missing until February 7th. Halliburton’s Radiation Safety officer contacted the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s operations center the following day. The F.B.I. immediately sent agents to search for the missing tool, according to documents and statements later obtained by the staff of Representative Edward J. Markey, of Massachusetts. By using surveillance-camera footage at Kennedy, the agents tracked the shipment to a warehouse outside Boston, where the americium had been trucked by mistake and set aside. A subsequent N.R.C. inspection of Halliburton found that workers in the company’s shipping department were “often unaware of the specifics of the routing of each shipment” of radioactive materials.
These things happen when you have so many sources out there.
[...] There are, for example, several hundred irradiation machines in the United States that employ large amounts of cobalt and cesium, and thousands more of these machines are scattered around the world under light control—Ethiopia has at least one, and Ukraine has at least a hundred. Investigators in Markey’s office, searching the Web, found one such machine, with its entire stockpile of cobalt, available for free, provided that a customer would haul the material away; the machine was in Lebanon.
In the United States, between 1994 and 2005, the N.R.C. recorded sixty-one domestic cases of stolen or lost isotopes in amounts that would clearly be useful to someone making a dirty bomb, although the majority of these involved iridium-192, which loses its potency fairly quickly. It is not clear whether the commission’s records describe all or even most of the problem cases. Among other things, the N.R.C.’s records of materials that entered the American marketplace before 1994 are generally unreliable. Problematic batches from earlier eras are missing. Some are associated with the bizarre case of the Gammator, a nineteen-sixties-era research contraption filled with dangerous amounts of cesium that was distributed by the Atomic Energy Commission to schools, hospitals, and private firms to promote nuclear understanding. Several Gammators sent to New York and New Jersey, as well as other places, have never been found.
Keep an eye out, wouldja?
Me, I just hope that the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office is very very very good at its job.
Read The Rest Scale: 4 out of 5. And, yeah, a dirty bomb isn't very destructive compared to a fission device; but a few square blocks contaminated enough to have to be abandoned for a couple of decades can be awfully disruptive, and terrorizing, if they happen to be the right few square blocks. While we're comforting ourselves that Fission Bombs Are The Biggest Worry, the dirty bomb possibility isn't exactly something to put wholly out of mind, either.
[...] The Environmental Protection Agency has listed some 15,000 chemical facilities that produce, use or store large quantities of hazardous chemicals. DHS, using a different methodology, has identified 3,400 facilities that could potentially affect more than 1,000 people if attacked, and nearly 300 chemical facilities where a toxic release could potentially affect 50,000 or more people.
Of course, the Republican Party Congressional leadership has blocked government action for years; as John Judis reported in 2003:
[...] In October 2001, New Jersey Senator Jon Corzine introduced legislation to protect chemical plants, and it seemed likely to pass. But, with the White House's tacit consent, the chemical industry convinced pliant Senate Republicans to block new regulations. It's another instance of the enormous power that business lobbies wield over Republican politicians--and it mocks the GOP's claim that national security is its highest priority.
The legislation Corzine introduced was the Chemical Security Act, designed to protect chemical facilities. The bill, according to an accompanying fact sheet, would have required the EPA and the new Department of Homeland Security to "establish minimum requirements for the improvement of security and the reduction of potential hazards at chemical plants and other industrial facilities that store large quantities of hazardous materials." Chemical plants would be required to meet these standards either through new technology or through security measures.
When some Republicans on the Environment and Public Works Committee objected, Corzine negotiated changes to win their support. For instance, he limited the plants that would fall under the new legislation to those the EPA already lists under its Risk Management Program, which monitors large chemical facilities for industrial accidents. To appease the industry critics who complained that chemical companies would have no incentive to initiate new safety procedures until the EPA completed its standards, Corzine added a provision granting exemptions to firms that took immediate steps. And he met Republican and industry objections that the bill would make companies more vulnerable to attack by forcing them to publicize their risk assessments: His revised bill adopted the secrecy provisions of the bioterrorism bill that Congress passed, even exempting risk assessments from Freedom of Information Act requests. On July 25, the committee passed the bill 19 to zero. Full Senate passage seemed assured.
But the chemical industry fought back vigorously, mounting daily assaults on the Republican members of the committee throughout August. The American Chemistry Council, the principal lobby for the chemical industry, created a formidable coalition of industries that included those directly affected, such as oil and petrochemicals, and the larger business lobbies, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Grover Norquist's network of activist organizations. The legislation focused specifically on chemical facilities near large population centers, but the lobby recruited the American Farm Bureau on the grounds that farmers, who use ammonia-laced fertilizer, would be subject to new regulations. The lobby sounded the usual anti-regulatory alarms.
And so, on September 10, 2002, seven of the nine Republicans on the committee--all of whom had voted for the legislation in committee--wrote a letter to their colleagues denouncing Corzine's bill. Led by Bond and Inhofe and mimicking the chemical industry's charges, they claimed the legislation "severely misses the mark," criticizing it for including features Corzine had cut out in his effort to satisfy them. Corzine offered to modify the bill even further, but the Republicans didn't want to change the bill; they wanted to kill it. Aided by the Senate's Byzantine parliamentary rules, they succeeded, blocking a vote on it as an amendment to the Homeland Security Act. The National Petrochemical and Refiners Association crowed on its website last fall, "Due to strong lobbying efforts by the chemical, petroleum and other industries, it appears that the Chemical Security Act of 2002 (the Corzine bill) has been de-railed for the current Congress."
ATTENTION LITTLE OLD LADIES IN DUBUQUE. In case you haven't noticed, the New Yorker's site has been completely redesigned; this wouldn't matter, except that a lot more of its content has been put up (check the individual category pages linked just beneath the title), and they're promising gobs more, for free.
Most New Yorker articles since 2001 and selected pieces from before; thousands of brief reviews of books, movies, recordings, and restaurants; and a searchable index, with abstracts, of articles since 1925.
But there's a heck of a lot more there than there used to be, already.
I'm still catching up to Steve Coll's long piece from last week on nuclear terrorism.
NEVER TRUST EYE-WITNESSES. People who don't give a damn about comics should likely skip this post: you've been warned -- scroll on down.
So I'm watching this little direct-to-DVD disk entitled Stan Lee's Mutants, Monsters & Marvels, which pretty much consists of Stan Lee and Kevin Smith sitting in chairs, while Smith asks Lee about his history, and how he created his characters, interspersed with various clips of the comics, and an occasional other clip.
And it turns out that what I had suspected before the movie arrived from Netflix would be the case turns out to be true, but about 1000% more than I expected.
That is: Stan Lee knows nothing about his own career.
Okay, I keed faintly, but only to the extent that we should replace the word "knows" there with "remembers."
I figured, based on having read innumerable interviews with Mr. Lieber over the years, that this would largely be the case. But it turns out to be almost entirely the case: pretty much everything he states as a fact, about his own career and characters, is wrong.
And Kevin Smith, the famous comics fan, owner of comics shops, writer of comics, writer and director of films about comics writers-artists, doesn't know enough about Stan Lee to catch any of even the simplest, most basic, errors of fact.
For instance: Smith asks Stan about the creation of The Fantastic Four; in describing the origins of Johnny Storm, the Human Torch, Stan of course mentions Carl Burgos' originalHuman Torch, who was a Timely Comics hero back in 1939, and when 17-year-old Stan was first hired by his uncle, Martin Goodman, in 1940-41.
Stan says "... and he hadn't been used for 20, 30, 40 years!"
Except that he was used right up through 1954; Stan created the "new" Human Torch who first appeared in 1961. Six and a half years is "20, 30, 40 years!" in Stan's telling; Kevin Smith blinks not an eye.
This isn't exactly a niggling error; Stan wasn't confused when this film was made (it came out in 2002) that he had co-created Fantastic Four in 1961 -- but for the character to have not been used since 1921 -- when American comic books hadn't been invented until 1933 -- would have been quite a trick. Even taking Lee's most conservative figure, 1941, would have pushed the "last time" the Torch had been used back before America entered WWII, which if Lee had thought about for half a second, he'd have realized made no sense whatever.
Smith actually doesn't really seem to be aware that Stan Lee started at Timely Comics in 1940-41, and was editor after a while, until he was drafted (Stan and Wikipedia say he enlisted, but I'm as apt to believe Fago's version, if not moreso), and Vince Fago replaced him as editor until Stan got out of the Army. Some of Smith's questions give the impression that he thinks Stan Lee first started at Marvel not long before he created the famous Marvel characters starting in 1961.
Incidentally, from the Fago interview, something I've never seen mentioned in any article about Elizabeth Hardwick:
[...] You ever hear of Elizabeth Hardwick? She started the New York Review of Books and was a pulp editor for Martin Goodman at the time. She came in on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
One day, she told me about a friend of hers from Kentucky. I met her friend and married her on April 1, 1943, of all days. Elizabeth Hardwick writes for The New Yorker magazine and we still see her.
Back to Stan Lee's Mutants, Monsters & Marvels: Stan next discusses Thor. Setting aside that Stan tells, with a deadpan face, an anecdote about his devotion to scientific accuracy because of how, rather than flying without any visible means, like Superman, Thor "flies" by whirling his hammer and then holding on after he throws it. Stan is obviously completely kidding about this as an "example" of "scientific accuracy," and breaks out into a laugh when he finishes, but Smith nods with as eager and accepting a face as he nods to everything else Stan says, with no sign whatever of recognition of Stan Lee's joke.
Setting that aside: Stan says of his comics character's Thor's hammer, Mjolnir, that "my brother Larry made that up, and it's just a made-up word, so feel free to pronounce it any way you like."
Ya'd like to think that no kids have listened to this, or to Stan talking about his characters, or that there's no difference between kids maybe taking the Marvel version of Norse legends as a bit more accurate than it is (which is: not so much), and Stan actually making claims about what's true and what isn't, but what the hell.
Anyway, back in reality, Larry Lieber made up calling Thor's hammer "the uru hammer," which was a completely made-up word. Years later, well, let's let Larry Lieber tell it to Roy Thomas:
[...] RT: Your first super-hero work seems to be Thor in Journey into Mystery #83. That came out in the summer of '62, so you'd have done the script in the Spring, if not before.
Lieber: One incident I remember with you and me was: I was in the office, and you came in. You'd been poring over Bulfinch's Mythology or something, and you said, "Larry, where did you find this 'uru hammer' in mythology?" And I said, "Roy, I didn't find it; I made it up." And you looked at me like, "Why the hell did you make it up?" You went and found the hammer's original name, Mjolnir.
RT: But I kept your name for it, too, because I thought "uru" could be the metal it was made of.
Lieber: I kind of liked it; it was short. It's easy on the letterer; they're going to be using it all the time. I don't know where the hell I came up with it.
RT: Stan said he always thought you got it from a mythology book. I'd been trying to track it down before I talked to you.
Lieber: I used to get names out of the back of the dictionary, from the biographical section where you have foreign names, Russian, this and that. I used to go to it and gets parts of names to put together.
RT: "Uru" sounds like a little town in Pakistan. There's probably an "Uru" somewhere. Even after all these years Mjolnir's been around, anyone who's ever read the old issues still knows "the uru hammer." By that stage, of course, Stan was doing the plots and Jack was breaking down the stories. Did you realize your career was entering a new phase with all these super-heroes, or was the Thor origin just another story to you?
Lieber: Thor was just another story. I didn't think about it at all. Stan said, "I'm trying to make up a character," and he gave me the plot, and he said, "Why don't you write the story?"
Anyway, Stan just goes on and on talking about his career and characters, and getting it all wrong. Kids, feel free to see this movie -- though you're really far better off Netflixing the hilarious An Evening With Kevin Smith, because Smith is a great story-teller -- but don't anyone believe a word in it.
Eyewitnesses, particularly decades after the fact, aren't worth so much. Even when talking about themselves.
Read The Rest Scale: excelsior!
ADDENDUM: 6:17 p.m.: After watching a bit more of the film, I've sufficiently confirmed to my own satisfaction my earlier impression: Kevin Smith, in fact, does not know the answers to any of the questions he asks Stan Lee. (For instance, if Lee was an editor when Martin Goodman was still around: !!!)
Needless to say, it's not generally considered a good idea, when filming an interview (just as in putting a witness on the stand in court), to have no idea what the answers to your questions are before you ask them. What an absolutely shitty interview technique. And I'm a big Kevin Smith fan. He couldn't have actually, like, looked into a few basic facts, before totally wasting the opportunity of asking Stan Lee anything he wants, for hours, on film?
ADDENDUM, 6:31 p.m.: Now Kevin says, talking about the "Silver Age" of comics (1961-8) that "this was the period before tv kinda takes over as much as it later does." To which I have to kinda gape. But, then, I actually lived through those years as a kid, going from 2-11, watching tv, whereas Kevin Smith wasn't yet alive (born 2 August 1970), so I'm kinda more inclined to go with my version, in which kids in America largely stared at tv for hours on end, while grown-ups wrote magazine articles about how horrible this was, in that time period, over Kevin's version, where tv wasn't watched so much by kids, thus explaining why comics sold profusely.
But, then, I forgot to mention Smith's earlier explained theory about how Marvel Comics were from "characters born in the atomic age, following the first atom bomb," and from "an age of science and wonder" and that what made them different from DC Comics is that whereas DC had, for instance, Batman, or Wonder Woman ("a Greek goddess" -- except she never was: she was an Amazonian princess -- Amazons aren't in the least "gods" -- they worship the Greek gods; Princess Diana, however, was molded out of the clay of Themyscira, and given to her mother, Minerva of the Amazons), Marvel characters, such as the Fantastic Four, or the Hulk, were "science-based."
Needless to say, if the first claim were true, that would explain the great successes Timely (Marvel/Magazine Management) had "following the first atom bomb," with new characters, in 1946. And in 1947. And 1948. And 1949. And 1950. And 1951. And 1952. And 1953. And 1954. And 1955. And 1956. And 1957. And 1958. And 1959. And 1960.
Oh, yeah, except that didn't happen. Kevin Smith's time sense doesn't appear to be too good, when he conflates 1945 and 1961 as basically the same era ("before I was born"). (It's as if one claimed that the success of something this year is due to the spirit of freedom inspired by the Berlin Wall having just fallen: wait, what?; each is only 16-18 years off -- no biggie.)
Then there's that great science-based character Thor, the Norse god. Or Dr. Strange. Or Sub-Mariner.
And the fact that the Silver Age DC characters were all re-invented in exactly the same time period. And were, in fact, not the slightest bit less "science-based" than the Marvel characters (Barry Allen, a police scientist, becomes the Flash after an explosion in the lab when lightning struck chemicals that spilled on him; Green Lantern is enlisted in a galaxy-wide corps of 1600, and is often off in other solar systems; Batman, with his personal lab in the Batcave, wouldn't seem to be the best example of not being science-based; etc.)
In other words, this theory of Kevin Smith's about how Marvel characters are different from the DC characters in being more "science-based" is simply wrong.
But aside from that, it's a good theory.
ADDENDUM, 7:56 p.m.: Incidentally, Wikipedia says, FWIW, that "Uru" may, among other things, refer to:
# Lake Uru Uru south of the Bolivian town of Oruro
# A collection of small villages on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
I fear I never noticed the existence of Uroc before now. I always love these sorts of standarized entries, because they result in lines like this: "Occupation: Enemy of Asgard" and "Affiliations: Glump, Kai-Ra, Karnilla, Rime Giants, Skoll, Ulik."
But, hey, any friend of Glump's is a friend of mine.
Glump should not be confused with:
* Glub, of the Mannites, @ Uncanny X-Men#372
Good to know!
ADDENDUM, 8:33 p.m.: Oh, dear, Stan's account of Jack Kirby's problems with Marvel in his late years is, ah, not particularly accurate.
This is, to be sure, like the rest of the errors made by Stan, indicative of nothing worse than Stan's simply apparently never having spoken directly, at least at length, with Kirby, about it, and knowing nothing more about it than what Marvel executives of the time told him; plus the usual memory problems [which Stan has long emphasized] and general vagueness; I'm simply noting, to emphasize, that no one should take the version Lee gives here as... I'll stick with "particularly accurate."
This is a version directly from Kirby, and friends.
I should also clarify that I'm not saying this DVD is worthless: I exaggerate when I say Stan gets everything wrong, of course; he retells his standard anecdotes well, and various of them give accurate flavor, and of course the general outline is true; if you think you'd enjoy that sort of thing, you'll likely enjoy the interview. It's also possible, I theorize, that, unlike me, there are people out there who haven't read and seen dozens and dozens of interviews with Stan Lee over the years, so his familiar anecdotes will be new to them -- and Stan, after all, has never been anything, if not personable and charming.
I'm simply noting that the DVD is not a terribly accurate source of information about Marvel or Stan Lee history, in anything resembling detail.
And god knows I'm getting relatively useless in accurately remembering stuff that happened in science fiction land, and that I personally lived through, or that happened to me, thirty years ago. Only thirty years ago.
Not to mention what I did in a particular instance last month, or maybe two hours ago, at times.
ADDENDUM, 10:26 p.m.: Just as an example of how bad Stan's memory really is, he's talking about the creation of J. Jonah Jameson, and he says:
I wanted to make the guy he [Peter Parker] works for -- in Superman, there was... Perry White, or something? SMITH: Perry White, yeah. STAN LEE:...who was probably a nice enough guy -- I didn't want this guy [J. Jonah Jameson] to be a nice guy.
And goes on to then accurately discuss how he wanted JJJ to hate Spider-Man, so as to set up the conflict, etc.
But, y'know, more than a few people have seen the George Reeves Superman tv show, and while there's no similarity between how Perry White in it feels about Superman with how J. Jonah Jameson feels about Spider-Man, no one in their right mind, who'd ever seen the show, and Perry White, could claim that he was portrayed as "a nice enough guy": Great Caesar's Ghost, his character pretty much yelled every line. (For that matter, George Reeves' Superman, and his Clark Kent, were both pretty cranky, but I digress.)
Just using this as an easy example of Stan's, ah, looseness about his accounts.
However, the little tour of Stan's house and memorablia, towards the end of the Spider-Man discussion, is kinda neat.
Final comment, having finished even the quite miniscule "extras": Stan Lee reciting his "original poem" (the very best kind, I hear), "God Woke" -- I fear this is used in Guantanamo.
MORE FRAKKING DETAIL THAN YOU CAN SHAKE A CYLON AT in this extremely long post about a visit to the neo-Battlestar Galactica set. I gave up trying to view all the photos when after half an hour, the post was still only about half-loaded (I'm clearly the only person left on the planet still on dial-up).
RULES FOR RADICALS. Ryan Lizza further explores Barack Obama's roots in community organizing, a la Saul Alinsky. And, yes, Hillary Clinton wrote her senior thesis on Alinsky (everyone knows that the radical lesbian commie lover-killer of Vince Foster was President of Wellesley College's Young Republicans in 1965, right?).
Y'know, when I read my parents' copy of Rules For Radicals in 1971-2 (and I was 12-14), it never occurred to me that 35 years later, Saul Alinsky would be a dominating figure in the background of two of the leading Democratic candidates for President. It would have seemed... unlikely.
Digressively, I doubt anyone has yet written a thesis on principles of Alinsky that rightwingers could theoretically get behind:
[...] The other fundamental lesson Obama was taught is Alinsky's maxim that self-interest is the only principle around which to organize people. (Galluzzo's manual goes so far as to advise trainees in block letters: "get rid of do-gooders in your church and your organization.")
Alinsky and Ayn Rand: extremely different paths, but more tangled roots than one might imagine.
Read The Rest Scale: 4 out of 5. Lizza has become one of the best political reporters of our day. (Note that you'll have to use this link to read the piece; otherwise it's behind the paywall; also, use the page numbers to advance through the article -- if you try "Printer friendly" or "next," you'll wind up back at the subscriber-only notice.)
UPDATE, 11/01/07: You can now find a copy of Lizza's piece here.
ADDENDUM, 12:10 a.m.: Incidentally, as I've not written this before, let me say it here: although I could happily vote for, and work as a volunteer for, most of the leading Democratic candidates for President (and others I could hold my nose and vote for), and I particularly have a great deal of respect for John Edwards, and his focus on poverty in America, unless or until something changes my mind, I'm for Barack Obama for President in 2008.
After all, he's so clean.
ADDENDUM, 2:45 p.m.: Act fast, and you can get your green "O'Bama For President" buttons before St. Patrick's Day.
I CAN'T FIND ANY SPARTANS TO TELL, so I'm telling you: we know I'm a sucker for snottily amusing movie reviews. Since Roger Ebert is still recovering, here's A. O. Scott on 300:
“300” is about as violent as “Apocalypto” and twice as stupid.
Later she observes that “freedom is not free.”
Another movie — Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s “Team America,” whose wooden puppets were more compelling actors than most of the cast of “300” — calculated the cost at $1.05. I would happily pay a nickel less, in quarters or arcade tokens, for a vigorous 10-minute session with the video game that “300” aspires to become. Its digitally tricked-up color scheme, while impressive at times, is hard to tolerate for nearly two hours (true masochists can seek out the Imax version), and the hectic battle scenes would be much more exciting in the first person. I want to chop up some Persians too!
Allegory hunters will find some gristly morsels of topicality tossed in their direction, but you can find many of the same themes, conveyed with more nuance and irony, in a Pokémon cartoon.
Go tell the Spartans, whoever they are, to stay home and watch wrestling.
This may be a film that plays better with your own soundtrack; or with none at all. Or maybe I'll like it better than Scott; as almost always, we'll know when I get around to the DVD.
Read The Rest Scale: 2.75 out of 5 for a couple of other amusing lines.
If 300, the new battle epic based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley, had been made in Germany in the mid-1930s, it would be studied today alongside The Eternal Jew as a textbook example of how race-baiting fantasy and nationalist myth can serve as an incitement to total war.
One of the few war movies I've seen in the past two decades that doesn't include at least some nod in the direction of antiwar sentiment, 300 is a mythic ode to righteous bellicosity. In at least one way, the film is true to the ethos of ancient Greece: It conflates moral excellence and physical beauty (which, in this movie, means being young, white, male, and fresh from the gyms of Brentwood).
Here are just a few of the categories that are not-so-vaguely conflated with the "bad" (i.e., Persian) side in the movie: black people. Brown people. Disfigured people. Gay men (not gay in the buff, homoerotic Spartan fashion, but in the effeminate Persian style). Lesbians. Disfigured lesbians. Ten-foot-tall giants with filed teeth and lobster claws. Elephants and rhinos (filthy creatures both). The Persian commander, the god-king Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) is a towering, bald club fag with facial piercings, kohl-rimmed eyes, and a disturbing predilection for making people kneel before him.
[...] If there’s one thing we hate worse than Frogs, it’s moronic twats who think that they somehow sound more intellectual by smattering their turgid prose with occasional fwench equivalents of perfectly good English words. At least the Frogs have the excuse that they were brought up with the language.
[...] Ah, the twitty little snots at Slate, all trying so hard to ape Michael Kinsley's snideness without having the deftness or talent to carry it off charmingly. Where every book, tv show, and movie is evaluated entirely according to how it flatters, or discomfits, their left-liberal mocha-marxist politics.
What's the matter, Dana? Did the big bad men scare you?
Please. Grow up, and stop being such an insipid, screechy girl for Christ's sakes.
Etc. Some of these folks really are rather angst-ridden about the Need For Manliness. Their need, anyway.
But, whoops, conservative Andrew Stuttaford, at that dreadfully left-wing New York Sun, also rips the film, largely on the same grounds that the condemned Dana Stevens did:
Hades, the ancients warned us, is dreary, morose, and subdued, its only pleasure a certain resigned tranquility. However, once news of Zack Snyder's "300," an account of the battle of Thermopylae, reaches the shades of the Spartan dead, even that sad calm will be gone. There will be shouts of rage, muttered, if laconic, threats and most ominous of all, the sound of swords being unsheathed as the finest fighting men of all time set off to hunt down Mr. Snyder, this son-of-a-Helot who should have stuck to the zombies he handled so well in "Dawn of the Dead."
The Spartan's deeds spoke for themselves. Compared with this, the bombast and bluster of the Miller version is simply tacky, a transformation of history not into myth, but kitsch.
Under these circumstances, Mr. Snyder's decision to stay so faithful to Mr. Miller's graphic novel (Mr. Miller is an executive producer of the movie) can only be described as unfortunate. Even more dismayingly, the changes he has made are generally for the worse. Thus Xerxes's Immortals, his finest troops, are reduced to grotesques, stray orcs shipped in from Mordor. The rest of the Persian king's horde now features so many savage freaks and oddball beasts that Leonidas looks to be doing battle not with the might of Asia, but against the worst of Barnum & Bailey.
No less damaging, despite the occasional striking image, "300" is as aesthetically clumsy as it is technologically sophisticated. For the most part its visual style is an unhappy mix of Leni Riefenstahl and Iron Maiden, a ridiculous combination better imagined than seen. Despite some enjoyably gratuitous naked writhing (Oracle Girl!), bringing this tawdry vision to the big screen has almost nothing to be said for it, other, I suppose, than as another useful reminder that slow-motion shots of macho men walking together is a cliché that should have been killed off somewhere between "The Wild Bunch" and "Armageddon."
Perhaps even more revealing is the way that, like the graphic novel, the movie fails to address the central paradox of Thermopylae: the fact that freedom's most effective defenders cared so little for individual liberty themselves. Of course, in our age of Guantanamo and Jack Bauer, that's a question that still resonates. If Mr. Snyder has chosen to dodge it, he's not the only one.
Let's wiretap Dana Stevens, though; best to be safe -- that's what freedom is all about! -- freedom is not free!
ADDENDUM, 3/18/07, 2:07 p.m.: Howard Waldrop and Lawrence Person's review.
ADDENDUM, 3/18/07, 10:23 p.m.: Also, Neal Stephenson has a NY Times Op-Ed piece (nicely titled "It’s All Geek to Me"), which starts:
A WEEK ago Friday, moments before an opening-day showing of the movie “300” at Seattle’s Cinerama, a 20-something moviegoer rushed to the front of the theater, dropped his shoulders, curled his arms into a mock-Schwarzenegger pose and bellowed out a timeless remark of King Leonidas of Sparta that has in the last week become the catchphrase of the year: “Spartans! Tonight we dine in hell!”
Which fills me with nostalgia for my eight years in Seattle from 1978 to 1986, and the many times I enjoyed the Cinerama, and particularly when I lived just a couple of blocks from it, on Vine St., in the Denny Regrade; so many happy memories, including the press showings of Blade Runner and Back To The Future, and then ten-movie all-Cinerama marathon, including such shorts as Ben-Hur, The Greatest Show On Earth, How The West Was Won, 2001, and other epics, making for a non-stop over 24 hours of movies (my younger friend who accompanied me slept through the chariot race!; the chariot race!).
[...] Everywhere else I went, from the dentist to the flower shop, Iranians buzzed with resentment at the film's depictions of Persians, adamant that the movie was secretly funded by the U.S. government to prepare Americans for going to war against Iran. "Otherwise why now, if not to turn their people against us?" demanded an elderly lady buying tuberoses. "Yes, truly it is a grave offense," I said, shaking my own bunch of irises.
Apparently many Iranians are irritated at their ancient culture being portrayed as "pillaging, deranged savages." Clearly we need to send them more fantasy, science fiction, and graphic novels, to help them understand that Frank Miller wasn't talking about them.
[...] Have you ever gotten up off the couch to get a beer for the umpteenth time and thought, "What if instead of ME going to get the BEER, the BEER came to ME???" Well, that was how I first conceived of the beer launching fridge. About 3 months and several hundred dollars later I have a fully automated, remote controlled, catapulting, man-pit approved, beer launching mini-fridge. It holds 10 beers in its magazine with 14 more in reserve to store a full case. It is controlled by a keyless entry system. Pressing unlock will start the catapult rotating and when it is aiming at your target, pressing unlock again will stop it. Then the lock button can be pressed to launch a beer in the selected direction.
There's video (and still pictures at the previous link).
The man has Hopes And Plans:
[...] The price would be around $1500, although the launcher would have a few improvements. The new launcher would use something similar to a miniature TV remote. It would have buttons to rotate it left, right, fire, and also have 0-9 be programmable angles. I would use a slightly larger mini-fridge so that the magazine would be closer to 20 beers. The distance will be adjustable manually to get the right couch distance, but will not be adjustable with the remote.
I simply refuse to purchase one that can't be adjusted for distance by the remote.