Tuesday, September 26, 2006

"Naked hair brushing, good; naked crouching, bad"

You might recognize that line from the famous Seinfeld episode "The Apology," which introduced the world to the concept of "good" naked and "bad" naked. Unfortunately, there are some wacky people in Texas who still can't grasp the distinction:

Teacher: reprisals began after field trip

FRISCO – A veteran Frisco art teacher says school administrators have retaliated against her because a student reportedly saw a nude sculpture during a field trip to the Dallas Museum of Art.

District officials say they are supporting a principal who reprimanded Sydney McGee over the field trip and other performance issues.

Oh boy. The anti-porn types and morality crusaders have largely succeeded in smearing over the line that existed between "nudity" and "pornography;" in the public's mind, there is little or no difference. The naked human body, far from representing our simplest biological form, has been co-opted and converted exclusively into a sex object. Viewed from this perspective, it makes sense that some idiots get hysterical over something as natural and innocuous as a nude sculpture.

This weird phenomenon is not new. In 2002, John Ashcroft famously covered up the bare breasted sculpture "Spirit of Justice" in the Great Hall of the Department of Justice -- no small irony there. And before that, there was Oklahoma Republican Tom Coburn making an ass of himself by protesting NBC's uncensored broadcast of "Schindler's List," in part because of the full frontal nudity -- a move so asinine that it elicited a rare moment of clarity and reason from Alfonse D'Amato, of all people.

Forget for a moment that we're not even talking about an actual nude human. The kid saw a nude sculpture -- a representation of a nude human. It is disturbing that this would bother anyone, yes, but the greater issue here is the primitive and unhealthy ways in which elements of this culture view nudity.

Roger Ebert famously says that a film should not be judged by its subject matter, but by how it deals with it. Applied here, this sensible view means that the nude human form (as sculpture or otherwise) is not intrinsically sexual -- unless that's the projection and association imposed upon it by the viewer.

Sexuality may imply nudity but the converse is not necessarily true. Context is everything. A naked woman posing suggestively on a bed has sexual connotations; a naked woman straining to open a jar of pickles...not so much. Showing fifth graders the Kama Sutra is inappropriate; showing them Michelangelo's David is not. See the differences?

It should be obvious and yet the distinction is lost on many people. It wouldn't matter so much except that a woman has apparently lost her job because of this shortsightedness. The Philistines are still among us and they are still making headlines.

[thanks to reddit for the link]

Monday, September 18, 2006

Democrats: Yup, Still Pretty Much Rife With Milquetoast-ery

The Democrats don't respect your intelligence and their party "leaders" have no idea how to attract the so-called middle. Don't believe me? Witness this missive from Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) on The Huffington Blog. Same old Democratic bromides and bogeymen. Same dull rhetoric that blunts the senses and smothers the ardor of even the most strident Bush opponents. How can anyone take this guy seriously?

[Forgive me for once again ripping off the FIRE JOE MORGAN motif, but those guys do an amazing job dismantling neanderthal sportswriting, and I don't see anyone doing the same thing in politics. So, into the vacuum come my own mediocre efforts. Sorry. Sometimes that's just what you get.]

The Congress of the United States has reconvened in Washington, D.C., but don't expect Congress to legislate on behalf of the American people.

Since society can pretty much manage itself without you people, that's OK. As an American myself, I believe I speak for all Americans when I say: thanks, but no need to legislate on our behalf. No, seriously, we're good.

The Republican Party will spend the next 30 days trying to make you afraid. It is the Republican midterm election strategy.

Yes, and one that your party did a rather poor job of countervailing in both 2002 and 2004, if you don't mind my saying so.

For the rest of September, until the moment Republican leaders gavel the Congress into adjournment, Republican speakers will rise and implore the American people to be afraid.

Republicans will call it security, and every time they do, just remember they are speaking in code. Republicans really mean insecurity.

During September, Republicans will wield the gavel, but they will not make America safer.

We will not consider, much less pass, legislation to better protect our ports.

Jimmy. Bubelah. Legislation does not make us safer. Since freedom is the natural state of things, legislation is nearly always designed to empower the state. Legislation prescribes the boundaries of licit behavior and the punishments for when those boundaries are transgressed, but it cannot make us safer. Really, most of the time legislation just turns peaceful, consensual activities into crimes. Given the staggering number of people the U.S. incarcerates, it can scarcely be argued that legislation functions as any kind of deterrent.

We know what needs to be done, but Republicans are hard on rhetoric and soft on action.

Republicans are going to use their insecure code word so often that I hope Lou Dobbs, Jon Stewart, and others keep track, and remind people daily of how often Republicans are willing to talk, and how little they are willing to act.

Considering that when Republicans act, people tend to get bombed, spied upon, or tortured, this is all to the good. Seriously, I prefer politicians who are unwilling to act, unless they're repealing something.

After America was attacked on 9/11, the finest military on earth--- the United States Armed Forces---

"We support the troops! We support the troops!"

was sent to Afghanistan to hunt down bin Laden and stop the Taliban. They did a magnificent job until U.S. soldiers were ordered to leave before the job was done. We don't have bin Laden and Afghanistan is looking more like Iraq every hour.

A Republican Administration is responsible for diverting our military, draining our treasury, destroying our credibility, and making America less safe.

This is undoubtedly true, but these words ring hollow since the Democratic playbook offers little in response besides tax increases and "social" spending instead of warfare. Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.

The American people know that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11, but the Administration denies the intelligence. Instead, the President mechanically recites his stay the course PR line.

That's because the president is a douchenozzle. We all know this. Look, if you Democrats want to be a viable opposition party, then oppose, G-d dammit. How many prominent Democrats (at least, those that have something to lose) have been steadfast about calling for an immediate end to this pointless war?

The American people know we are off course and adrift in a sea of violence.

Must be the sharks with the frickin' laser beams.

U.S. soldiers are not fighting a war on terror in Iraq. They are targets in a civil war among Iraqis.

When Republicans parade to the rostrum to outdo each other in using their insecurity code word, think of how insecure our soldiers are.

"Does this body armor make me look fat?"

Republicans keep saying things are getting better. That is disproved by their own Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, who ordered another 13,000 U.S. soldiers into Iraq recently. There are now 140,000 U.S. soldiers surrounded by civil war.

After 2,653 American lives lost, and 19,600 wounded Americans, the country deserves Democratic leadership that knows the Republican plan to stay the course is the most insecure plan for our soldiers, this nation, and the Iraqi people.

Yeah, good luck with that. Odds are you'll find bin Laden before this "Democratic leadership" you speak of.

Republicans will spend the next 30 days trying to stay in power, nothing more.

"Our cause is noble! We Democrats won't rest until we've seized power!"

They will say their insecurity code word over and over, but they won't pass the recommendations of the bi-partisan 9/11 commission.

"Bi-partisan," great. Things are seldom worse than when the Stupid Party and the Evil Party agree on something.

Republicans won't bring up immigration legislation intended to make our borders safer.

Legislation does not make us safer. See explanation, supra.

Republicans won't address reforms to make Social Security safer.

How exactly does one make a Ponzi scheme safer, Jim?

Republicans won't bring up legislation to end taxpayer subsidies for Big Oil, or launch a national campaign to end our addiction to oil.

Instead, Republicans will tell you to be afraid unless you pay through the nose at the pump, and Big Oil drills in every pristine environment left on the planet.

Republicans will tell you to be afraid for Social Security unless they give your benefits to Wall Street, so you might have holdings like Enron.

Clever, invoking the Enron bogeyman. No doubt those guys were awful, but care to take some responsibility for the government's role in creating the Enron monster? No?

Republicans will tell you to be afraid unless they can mortgage America's 22nd century, so that today's super rich can just have more.

Delightful. The "super rich" -- another boring, predictable Democratic whipping boy. This sentence tells you all you need to know about modern Democrats and their unwillingness to be dragged into the 21st century. OK, listen: there are a lot of people who made boatloads of money yet still maintained their liberal bona fides. Look at all of fucking Hollywood. Enough bashing of the "super rich." Fomenting class warfare is so very Marxist chic, and so very fucking passe. It does not resonate with anyone; it only reinforces the perception that you people are disconnected from reality. Get over it already.

Republicans had their chance and squandered it, leaving the American people with monstrous debt.

I love this: "WE collected your taxes, WE squandered it on warfare and pork, WE can't be trusted with power...but shit, the debt? That's YOURS." You know how you know this is bullshit? Expect Republicans to use the exact same rhetoric after the Democrats control the purse strings for two years. The parties just recycle and trade the same epithets every election year but nothing changes.

Republicans had their chance and used it to divert America away from the real war on terror.

Terrorism is a tactic. You can't wage war against an abstraction or strategy like "terror." There is no real war on terror, and even if there was, it couldn't be won. Please stop trying to talk tough by appropriating Republican language. Geez, if McDermott is representative of some new Democratic vanguard, these guys are in heaps of trouble.

Republicans are calling this Security September.

Not quite as much fun as "March Madness" or "Black History Month," but maybe it'll grow on us.

Just remember to be afraid....afraid of what else Republicans will do if they remain in power after the November election.

I am. Unfortunately, the Democrats terrify me just as much. There is really only one cause for hope and it has nothing to do with politicians.

[h/t to reddit]

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Another Example of How the State Ruins Everything

Are Some Video Games Gambling?

Although thousands of gamers enjoy an online simulation called Entropia Universe, questions are being raised as to whether the game constitutes "illegal" gambling (especially by "minors"), and if real in-game earnings constitute income for the taxman to steal.

Is there any sphere of human activity left that the state won't tax, regulate, or otherwise throttle?

[h/t to Fark.com]

Thursday, September 07, 2006

State Servant Lectures, Punishes Teens For Insufficient State Worship

Oh, the judges these days:

Flag burners sentenced - Teens have to apologize, serve two days at VA hospital

It must be pointed out here that these teens are being singled out and punished for choosing American flags to burn, and not for the actual crime of taking and vandalizing property they didn't own. One wonders how these teens would have been treated for burning less political symbols such as mailboxes or trash bins.

In essence, these kids are being punished for their thoughts as much as their deeds, which is pretty fucking ironic given that the judge sought to impart some life-changing civics lesson about American freedom.

Just listen to this idiot:

“It was so disrespectful to all of the men and women who have served our country,” she said. “You should have known. I have no doubt your parents taught you better than this. It shouldn’t have taken this to make you appreciative.”

No, what's disrespectful, if not downright perverse, is teaching teens that freedom is about flags and veterans -- symbols and servants of the state. True freedom means freedom from the state, not because of it.


[h/t to fark.com]

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Film Review: "Broken Flowers"

There is a lot going on in Jim Jarmusch's "Broken Flowers": it is, to varying degrees, a mystery story, a character study, a road picture, a comedy, and a drama. The film stars Bill Murray as Don Johnston, a guy who made a fortune in computers and who now seems content to idle away in front of his widescreen TV.

On the same day that Johnston's live-in girlfriend leaves him, a mysterious letter arrives in a pink envelope, unsigned, without a return address or legible postmark. The letter is purportedly from an old flame, who informs him that twenty years back she had had his son and the boy might be looking for his father. Though Don seems surprised by the news, he resolves to do nothing about it. After much sleuthing, planning, and cajoling from his neighbor, Winston, Don is persuaded to try tracking down the boy and his mother first. One wonders whether Don is moved by a desire to find his long-lost son or if he simply has nothing better to do.

And so, after narrowing the list of maternal possibilities down to five women (which is whittled to four after Winston learns one is dead), Don embarks on his journey as "a stalker in a Taurus," as he puts it. The odyssey is like an inside-out version of "Flirting With Disaster," minus the madcap hijinks. Though the scenes with Don's former lovers are sprinkled with hints and clues about the letter writer's identity, the film leaves open several possibilities that I won't ruin here.

It is important to note that no one but Bill Murray could have pulled off the role of Don; as Roger Ebert has noted, Murray is perhaps the only actor who can convey emotional depths with little more than a look in his eye or an almost imperceptible change of expression. Indeed, Jarmusch wrote the part of Johnston with Murray in mind.

Stylistically and thematically, the film is vintage Jarmusch. He doesn't beat the viewer about the face with his style but moves the plot forward with a minimalist approach; quiet fades between scenes and minimal dialogue work just fine here. The characters interact so well with nonverbal cues and awkward silences that the absence of clever dialogue never seems stark or contrived.

Visually, Jarmusch's choices are wise. The film is set in early autumn, which parallels Don's own inevitable slide toward twilight (but not without hope of rebirth thanks to a son). Feminine symbols such as flowers and the color pink are featured prominently and recur throughout the film. Many shots are used to illustrate the banalities of travel; airplanes taking off, Don in the car on a dull stretch of road, Don consulting his map, Don settling in for another night in a seedy and depressing motel, etc. I loved these scenes, not because they were particularly interesting, but because they helped maintain a rhythm and they suggested that the journey was as important as the destination.

Murray and Jarmusch have created an intriguing, enigmatic character in Don Johnston. By most objective measures, he is a success: he cashed out of a thriving business and is popular with women and children, and yet, he seems oddly unfulfilled and melancholy. By the end we are left wondering whether the journey was worthwhile; is Don better or worse off after his encounters? Ah, but perhaps that's looking at things the wrong way: that Don seemed to give a damn is reason enough to be hopeful for him.