Sunday, September 30, 2007

Last Second Timeouts

After watching the end of last night's Auburn upset of Florida, I have to say that both the NCAA and NFL need to implement new rules concerning last second timeouts. What is happening is that coaches are waiting until literally the last possible milisecond to call timeout. It's so late that the play takes place and then the kicker has to rekick. It's unsportsmanlike. I understand that Bret Bielema of Wisconsin started this last year. It got major publicity this year in the NFL with Raiders coach Lane Kiffin and Broncos coach Mike Shanahan doing this. In both cases, the opposing kickers missed the second kick. Last time, Urban Meyer pulled it against Auburn, but the Tigers kicker nailed the second kick too.

It's really bullshit on the worst level. I'm not sure exactly how to tweak the timeout rules but I think that something like the opposing team may not call a time-out after the teams have been set for the play for more than 2 seconds might be appropriate. In any case, something needs to be done.

Absurd Texts in American History (VIII)

Another series comes off of hiatus.

I was flipping through a textbook this week and I was reminded of a case that is worth discussing. John Svan was a Finnish immigrant to the United States. He came to this country sometime before 1882. But he was not considered white by the United States government. Why? He carried with him the blood of his "Mongolian" ancestors. This meant he could not become a citizenship. Various laws were passed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, restricting US citizenship to those of the white and black races. These laws were intended to discriminate against Asians, but what about Finns. Were they white?

This is from the 1908 court decision deciding that, in fact, Finns are white.

John Svan was born in Finland and calls himself a Finn...According to the ethnologists, the Finns in very remote times were of Mongol origin; but the various groupings of the human race into families is arbitrary and, as respects any particular people, is not permanent but is subject to change and modification through the influences of climate, employment, intermarriage and other causes. There are indications that central and western Europe was at one time overrun by the Finns; some of their stock remained, but their racial characteristics were entirely lost in their remote descendants, who now are in no danger of being classed as Mongols. The Osmanlis, said to be of Mongol extraction, are not among the purest and best types of the Caucasian race. Changes are constantly going on and those occurring in the lapse of a few hundred years with any people may be very great.

The chief physical characteristics of the Mongolians are as follows: They are short of stature, with little hair on their body an face; they have yellow-brown skins, black eyes, black hair, short, flat noses, and oblique eyes. In actual experience we sometimes, though rarely, see natives of Finland whose eyes are slightly oblique. We sometimes see them sparse beards and sometimes with flat noses; but Finns with a yellow or brown or yellow-brown skin or with black eyes or black hair would be an unusual sight. They are almost universally of light skin, blue or gray eyes, and light hair. No people of foreign births applying in this section of the country for the full rights of citizenship are lighter-skinned than those born in Finland. In stature they are quite up to the average. Confessedly, Finland has often been overrun with Teutons and by other branches of the human family, who, with their descendants, have remained within her borders and are now called Finns. They are in the main indistinguishable in their physical characteristics from those of purer Finnish blood. Intermarriages have been frequent over a very long period of time. If the Finns were originally Mongols, modifying influences have continued until they are now among the whitest people in Europe. It would, therefore, require a most exhaustive tracing of family history to determine whether any particular individual born in Finland had or had not a remote Mongol ancestry. This, of course, cannot be done and was not intended. The question is not whether a person had or had not such ancestry, but whether he is now a "white person" within the meaning of that term as usually understood. This is the practical construction which has uniformly been placed upon the law....Under such law Finns have always been admitted to citizenship, and there is no occasion now to change the construction.

The applicant is without doubt a white person within the true intent and meaning of such law.

The objections, therefore, in my opinion should be overruled and it will be so ordered.

Thus, the Finns were now white.

This information is quoted from Jones, et al., Created Equal: A Social and Political History of the United States, Brief Edition.

Historical Image of the Day



1929 brochure for lectures by Yakama Indian and actor Nipo Strongheart on the Chautauqua circuit

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Punk'd Again

I think maybe Charles Johnson needs a vacation. A couple days ago, the bedwetting bigot got took by what turned out to be a movie still. Today he spews his milky outrage over this Jerusalem Post story, which claims to show photos of what Johnson calls a "barbaric honor killing in Gaza" (with Johnson, you can be sure that, whatever they're doing in Gaza, it's barbaric). Not so much, says Charles Levinson, noting that the photos come from a video of a murder which took place in Iraq in 2004. Oops. That's what you get for believing what you read in the Jerusalem Post, I guess, but I am always amazed at how Johnson is able to work up concern for the deaths of Palestinians when, and only when, they're killed by other Palestinians.

Step away from the keyboard, Charles, go out, take a walk. Give yourself a furlough from the War against Islamofascism. We can spare you (believe me, we can spare you). There will still be a whole religion and culture for you to slander when you get back.

Garbage

I find this Emily Gertz piece about Americans generating garbage remarkable.

We create 20% more trash per person than we did in 1990!!!

Where is that coming from? The proliferation of plastic bags you get at the store? Do we throw away more usable goods than we used to?

I didn't catch the "Marketplace Money" series where Tess Vigeland carried around her trash, but it's a useful exercise. Something has to be done about the creation of so trash. I would argue that utility fees for garbage should rise, but given the negligible effect rising gas prices have had on driving, I don't know that it would matter.

Historical Image of the Day



Fort Louis de la Mobile, 1702

Friday, September 28, 2007

Zing

While I'm skeptical of the quality of Ang Lee's new film "Lust, Caution," Manohla Dargis' review makes fun of its NC-17 rating with a nice shot to the ribs of the MPAA.


"The Motion Picture Association of America, that tireless, cheerless band of Comstocks who regulate all things sexual and few things violent on behalf of the major studios, has saddled the film with an NC-17 rating — no one 17 and under admitted, even with an adult — because of “some explicit sexuality.” The horrors of female nudity (unshaven armpits!) and the vigorous pantomime of coitus apparently offended the sensibilities of the M.P.A.A., which routinely bestows R ratings to movies in which characters are tortured to death for kicks.."

Yep, that pretty much says it.

The Bible Speaks Directly To Giuliani

Rudolph Giuliani wants people to back off his personal life. Like any good faux-Christian politician, Giuliani bases this in the Bible.

"I'm guided very, very often about, `Don't judge others, lest you be judged,"' Giuliani told CBN interviewer David Brody. "I'm guided a lot by the story of the woman that was going to be stoned, and Jesus put the stones down and said, 'He that hasn't sinned, cast the first stone,' and everybody disappeared. It seems like nowadays in America, we have people that think they could've passed that test," he said. "And I don't think anybody could've passed that test but Jesus."

He then goes on to tell the Christian Broadcasting Network

"I think there are some people that are very judgmental."

Now that Giuliani has accepted Jesus into his life, does this mean that he will stop being so judgmental to blacks? To Muslims? To Democrats?

Yeah, I didn't think so.

Immigrants Help Our Economy? Who Knew???

Ken Belson and Jill Capuzzo's story about Riverside, New Jersey rethinking its anti-immigrant ordinance made me laugh.

Like other towns across the nation, Riverside is figuring out that masses of hard-working immigrants local economies grow. They help small towns revitalize. They are good citizens and contribute positively to American life.

But of course these people were also brown and spoke a funny language so it was worth it, or so says former mayor Charles Hilton. “The business district is fairly vacant now, but it’s not the legitimate businesses that are gone,” he said. “It’s all the ones that were supporting the illegal immigrants, or, as I like to call them, the criminal aliens.”

Yes, such as grocery stores, restaurants, music shops, stores that sell phone cards to call back to Mexico, and other horrible businesses that only bring money into communities. I suppose if you equate "legitimate" and "white," then maybe Hilton has a point.

I can only imagine what would happen if my home town of Springfield, Oregon passed one of these ordinances. They entire time I was growing up, downtown was dying. No one went down there for any reason. There were a few old crappy restaurants, a bar or two, some thrift stores, and a lot of vacant buildings. Beginning in the early 1990s, Spanish-speaking immigrants began filtering into town. Today, downtown is way more hopping than it used to be. There are really good Mexican restaurants, stores catering to Mexican consumers, including a music store, and other shops owned by immigrants. Downtown Springfield no longer sucks. How comfortable local residents are with the area's first ever large non-white population is hard for me to say, but I'd far rather live in the Springfield of 2007 than the Springfield of 1992.

Erik's Random 10

Elizabeth Cotten is one of the most unjustly forgotten people in the American folk canon. Real fans of the genre know who she is, but the average music fan does not. Born in 1895 in North Carolina, Cotten, like many African-Americans of her generation, played music but could not survive professionally. We know some of these stories--Mississippi John Hurt for instance. Cotten started working as a maid at the age of 13. She married at 15 and stopped playing to raise her family. In the 1940s, now in her sixties, Cotten began playing again and her recordings caught the attention of Pete Seeger. She was picked up by the burgeoning folk movement and made a number of interesting recordings over the next twenty years. Her most famous song, "Freight Train" has been recorded by a number of artists. Her wonderful, understated voice combined with her unique way of playing the guitar makes her a real treat. I found my first listen to Cotten a very arresting experience.

1. Elizabeth Cotten, I Don't Love Nobody
2. Ali Farka Toure, Tulumba
3. Bob Wills, Faded Love
4. Neil Young, Cowgirl in the Sand
5. Tommy Jarrell, Old Molly Hare
6. John Zorn, Spillane
7. Van Morrison, Cyprus Avenue
8. Sun Ra, Journey Toward Stars
9. Midnight Oil, Shakers and Movers
10. The Killers, Everything Will Be Alright

Historical Image of the Day



Spiritualist gathering

Mister Trend's Random 10

There isn't enough I can say about "Tropicalia: ou, Panis et Circenses", the album featuring this week's seventh song. Released in 1968, it was a musical companion to the broader tropicalia movement, which sought to incorporate American and European elements into a Brazilian musical elements to create a new, modern, Brazilian artistic vision in the plastic arts, painting, music, and film. Combining the efforts of Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, Tom Ze, Os Mutantes, Gal Costa, and Nara Leao, the album is, simply, one of the best ever made, in any genre, ever. It is politically biting (by 1968, the Brazilian military dictatorship had been in power for 4 years; by the end of the year, it would enter its most repressive phase, and Gil and Veloso would soon be exiled to England). It is equally critical and joyous of the changes in Brazilian society, be it industrialism ("Parque Industrial"), the isolated apathy of elites towards the dictatorship ("Panis et Circenses"), or American influences on Brazil (for better or worse, depending on how you interpret the lyrics of "Baby"). "Tres Caravelas" uses the arrival of Columbus to the Americas as a means of re-interpreting the European-American cultural exchange (in the sense of the Americas as a whole) . It's not my favorite on the album, but it is in no way filler or a bad song - it's just as great as the rest (subjectively speaking, I just don't dig the tune and lyrics quite as much). If you have never heard "Tropicalia", I can't stress strongly enough how much everybody should try to get their hands on a copy, official or bootlegged. To me, it is the most important and best album of the 1960s, bar none, and everybody should hear it, regardless of whether they understand the lyrics or not. It's just a musical accomplishment of the highest quality.

1. "Somebody In My Home" - Howlin' Wolf
2. "The Jinx Blues - Part 2" - Son House
3. "Dunwich Beach, Autumn, 1960" - Brian Eno
4. "Every Grain of Sand" - Emmylou Harris
5. "My Old Flame" - Billie Holiday
6. "All Tomorrow's Parties" - The Velvet Underground
7. "Tres Caravelas (Las Tres Carabelas)" - Caetano Veloso & Gal Costa
8. "Bees" - Animal Collective
9. "Human Highway" - Neil Young
10. "Out in the Street" - Bruce Springsteen

Friday Guitar Blogging


Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

11 New Species!!! Send Out The Loggers!!!!

11 new species have been discovered in Vietnam.

Are the residents of the world up for the challenge of driving THIS many more species into extinction?

I can't wait to find out.

NFL 2007 Week 3: NFC Edition

NFC East: Oh, how I wish it wasn’t true. I don’t think the Cowboys have quite hit their toughest challengers this season but, looking at their schedule right now, they don’t have a lot of tough games coming up at any point in the season, so they’ll keep looking better and better until they fall apart, which I’m still keeping hope alive for. Romo and Owens beamed with arrogance after Sunday night’s game. You’ve got to love a successful Cowboys; they’re the kind of team that can really make a guy sick. Hopefully, the Eagles can keep their upturn going to spoil some glory for them. Philly looked so much better this week than previously; really like two different teams. Though it’s not the anomaly the Cleveland extravaganza was, they are clearly not the powerhouse they appeared to be. On a side note, if these teams are going to wear their retro uniforms from that long ago, they really need to go all the way and have them made out of wool again. As it stood, they didn’t look old, they just looked bad. Finally, in the battle for the crappiest in the division, New York tried hard to lose, but couldn’t quite manage it. To be fair, the Redskins did everything they could to let it slip between their fingers, including committing the stupidest call in the NFC of the week (Gibbs is second only to Shanahan for tops in the league this week) by having Ladell Betts stay in on the goal line at the end of the game. I know that Portis isn’t what he was before the injuries but, really, why are you paying money for star players when you keep them on the sidelines during game deciding situations? This call is simply absurd.

NFC North: Now, after three weeks, I have to admit that the Packers are the best in the North. That is less a testament to their prowess than their terrible division, but they are 3-0, and that’s all that counts, I guess. It’s hard to gauge how well they did against San Diego, because they’re falling apart so dramatically, but they certainly slowed that offense down and, once again, exposed the Chargers’ offensive scheme. The Griese era has officially begun in Chicago, and Bears fans are rejoicing. I like Griese and think he did pretty well in Denver, but he’s really no great shakes and they’ve decided after three weeks to throw this season in the trash. Who will they be pining for, however, when Griese trips over his dog again? I’m just not sure drunks make good quarterbacks. Maybe I’m wrong, there’s always Joe Namath. I wanted to think that Minnesota was turning it around, and they still have a great defense, but the offense just isn’t there, and my hopes for them are falling fast. Only putting up ten points against KC’s defense is pretty damning, and it doesn’t get a lot easier than that for them this year, so they may be done before they get started. Now it looks like the Cowboys may have to contend with the Kitna-led Lions for supremacy in heaven. Ever since his “miracle” comeback, there’s been little talk about the Lions that doesn’t involve Kitna and his fervent belief in God. That’s fine, and maybe Jesus helped him come back from the concussion, but Jesus didn’t help them stop the Eagles on any level and he sure won’t help Kitna with the early-onset Alzheimer’s.

NFC South: I wasn’t expecting to say call the South the worst division in the conference, since that’s been the North for years, but here we are with two teams that could be 0-3 and two teams that rightfully are. Houston’s not lamenting the loss of David Carr, but the Panthers may be regretting picking him up. It’s still undecided whether Delhomme will be able to play on Sunday but, if not, the Buccaneers are going to tear through David Carr like he’s still with the Texans. Tampa’s defense destroyed the Rams last week, and are starting to look like an impressive group. They were able to exploit the huge holes developing in St. Louis’ line and did a good overall job. The offense is still leaving a lot to be desired, and Cadillac’s driving them nowhere, but as long as the defense holds as they have, they will be very hard to beat. Then we have the Saints, who continue to prove that they were a flash in the pan. It’s hard to imagine a team looking worse than New Orleans did on Monday and, with the loss of Deuce, they are forced to have Bush wash out while carrying the load. Too bad they don’t have a real pass attack, because there aren’t going to be too many forward runs.

NFC West: While these teams have a lot of work to do to be as bad as the South, they’re trying their best. It’s shocking to see the Rams performing so poorly, but a lot of that is the result of line problems. But, without a defense and without Jackson performing on any level (and now hurt), they are looking worse and worse all the time. The Seahawks are the best in the division, but they’d be pretty mediocre in any other division (except the South, of course). The best thing to say about them is that they actually look like a team trying to win, which is better than can be said for any other team here. San Francisco, for all the hype, look as bad as ever. Frank Gore, despite the cool name, has offered nothing and, now that Vernon Davis is hurt, they don’t even have their main passing threat, and will continue to fail. Those poor Cardinals, who continually look like they should be good, are little more than they ever were. Only half of their vaunted receiving duo is doing anything and Edgerrin James just can’t get anything going behind that line. Will Whisenhunt still have a job after another losing season and forcing his quarterbacks into a wishy-washy committee system? The odds are looking worse every week.

Huh?

Yglesias notes this odd sentence in a New York Times article on the UAW-GM settlement.

"Likewise, U.A.W. members, assured of health care benefits that were the envy of the labor movement, had little incentive to take better care of their health, since their generous coverage would pay for most any ailment."

Great. There's nothing as great as the nation's newspaper of note reprinting rote right-wing talking points about health care without comment.

Of course there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that good health insurance means people don't take care of their bodies. Canada, France, Britain, other nations with national health care programs have far healthier populations than ours.

Is it too much to ask for the Times to provide at least marginally competent reporting? I guess so.

Scott has more.

What Is An Environmentalist?

Via Emily Gertz, David Roberts tackles PETA's claim that meat-eaters cannot be environmentalists.

Roberts rightly scoffs at PETA:

"This is a deeply silly question. The term "environmentalist" is socially contingent and highly contested. Environmentalism has no metaphysical essence. "You aren't an environmentalist" is moral judgment masquerading as an assertion of fact."

Right. PETA, along with other more self-righteous "radical" environmental organizations, frequently try to define what environmentalism in based on their own behavior. Environmentalism has not only changed throughout American history, but it has no easy definition. Do you have to be a member of PETA or EarthFirst to be an environmentalist? What if you just recycle? What if you are a meat-eater who throws away all your cans and bottles, but you don't have a car?

PETA's attempt to define environmentalism based on their own behavior reminds me of two historical episodes. First, making moral statements that places oneself above the rest of the world is reminiscent of Anglo-Saxons in the early 20th century creating race charts to justify their own position as imperialists. While the racist imperialists both had more power and were worse people than PETA members could ever dream of, both group started from a position of moral superiority to the rest of the world and then created systems of knowledge to reinforce themselves.

Second, and perhaps more relevant, this reminds me of the spotted owl crisis in the Pacific Northwest in the 1980s and early 1990s when environmental groups demonized loggers because they cut down trees. Rather than think about the lives of average working people and their interactions with the environment, they preferred to condemn with a wide net, making thousands of enemies in the process. Never mind that many loggers are also avid hikers, fishers, hunters, bikers, etc. Because they logged for a living, they hated the forests. Of course, these groups used paper products as an important way of spreading its message. Likewise, PETA is excluding millions of environmentally sensitive Americans from the movement based upon one personal behavior. Unlike logging, where people worked in the forests to put food on the table, meat-eating is a more personal choice, but one with deep social, cultural, and class implications that many people cannot so easily throw away.

Is PETA right that people should not eat meat? From an environmental perspective, yes. There is no doubt that meat consumption is one of the most environmentally damaging actions we can do. Raising cattle destroys forests in Central America, while chicken and pig farms produce prodigious amounts of waste that often are improperly treated.

But of course this is not PETA's only argument. They also equate morality with their own brand of environmentalism. Thus eating meat is evil as well as environmentally damaging. This is a much harder argument to accept. Not only is it fairly absurd on its face, but it is alienating to the general public. Are they advancing their cause by saying meat-eaters cannot be environmentalists? Not at all. Rather, they are annoying people with their self-righteous, and often hypocritical, behavior.

We should make arguments that people should cut down on meat consumption. We should also encourage more humane and environmentally sustainable ways of producing meat. But I deeply oppose PETA's claims. Not only is PETA wrong, but, as usual, they damage the entire environmental movement through their blanket claims.

Myanmar Protests

I wonder if this is not the beginning of the end of Myanmar's military government. The protests racking the country for the last week are both about immediate economic problems, but also decades of dissatisfaction with the military regime. The army is cracking down but so far has not been effective in dispersing the protests. The key here obviously rests with the army. How disciplined is the army? Will they continue to kill their own people? Or is there enough sentiment among lower-ranking officers and average soldiers that change is needed? We should find this out in the next few days. I think it could go either way.

I would feel more comfortable if Than Shwe was off the scene. Than Shwe is the worst kind of corrupt, brutal junta leader. He personally hates Aung San Suu Kyi. Word is that there is a significantly sympathy growing within the junta for moderation, but Than Shwe won't hear of it. His nation was just listed as one of the two most corrupt nations in the world (along with Somalia). He's older and in bad health, so this could be his last hurrah.

Of course, monks leading the protests make a big difference. Brian McCartan provides a great overview of the historical actions of Burmese monks in leading protests. Buddhism is strong in Myanmar and monks play a major role in everyday life. Men are supposed to serve as monks for at least a portion of their lives. Most don't stay in the monasteries long, but all monks receive significant respect. It's harder for the military government with monks leading the protests. They are trying to use brute force to arrest and kill monks, but this is not helping them with the general population, nor is the on-going economic problems and rampant corruption.

It's possible that the military restores order and Than Shwe serves out the rest of the miserable days in power, but those days are short. I suspect we will see some kind of limited change, though with the military still in some kind of power, in the next few years if not now.

Historical Image of the Day




Map of New Hampshire and Vermont, 1796

2007 Women's World Cup - the Semifinals

So, 39 minutes into the second half, Brazil holds a commanding (to put it lightly) 4-0 lead on the U.S. women in the Women's World Cup. This is huge, and proves right my claim that Brazil has to be one of the favorites this year, with 2006's woman player of the year (Marta) and a strong cast around her. It's going to be Brazil v. Germany in the final, with the U.S. and Norway dueling in the semifinal. Vamos, vamos brasileiras!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

I Miss New Mexico

We haven't had any good New Mexico stories lately. This story is sad, but has some classic New Mexico in it.

The story is about a 15 month old baby who died after his mom lost him in a field when she fell asleep while stargazing. That seems kind of weird, especially knowing that it was near Encino, where I don't think anything good has ever happened. But then it ends like this:

Deputies said the boy and his mother had been seen along U.S. 60 before dawn Tuesday. The woman, wearing no clothes, showed up a few hours later in Encino and told authorities her baby was missing.

Why did she wander into town naked? Who the hell knows.

NFL 2007 Week 3: AFC Edition

Has there ever been a more frustrating first few weeks for elite running backs? It’s become a clear passing season where even a guy like John Kitna can pass for over 400 yards in one game when Larry Johnson can barely scrape out a hundred over three. I like high-octane offense, but all the games this season feel like Pac-10 games; even the bad teams can put up 40 on a defense.

AFC East: After three weeks, it’s clear to me that the Patriots are the best team in the NFL. That doesn’t translate to postseason success necessarily, but they’ve put up 38 points in each game so far, and defenses have found no way to respond to Moss. For the first time, Brady has a true go-to guy, and it’s working out fairly well for them, I’d say. The Jets were finally able to pull one out, but the Dolphins tried hard and almost took them out. They haven’t managed to pull one out themselves, but Ronnie Brown finally played like a pro and it looks like they’re getting a little better every week. I won’t mean a whole lot since no other team here is getting into the playoffs, but they might actually be getting to a place where they can compete again. The Bills won’t be able to say this for a long time. It’s hard to believe that the Bills are worse now, but with the loss of Losman, they’re going with Stanford great Trent Edwards starting and Craig Nall (is there nobody better?) backing him up, the next two weeks will be dismal for them

AFC North: The North isn’t quite as one-sided as the East, but the Steelers have easily become the cream in the division. They’ve been able to do it in all facets of the game, and are one of the big three in the conference with the Pats and the Colts, with Indy being at the bottom of that short list. The Ravens and the Bengals are both talented teams, but each is only halfway there. If you combined Baltimore’s defense with Cincinnati’s offense, you’d have an unstoppable force. If you combined the other sides together, you’d have a team that even Cleveland could beat. It looks like the Derek Anderson magic has run out already. They might spoil a game or two for people, but they exhausted their entire offensive production for the season against Cincinnati. I hope they enjoyed it while it lasted.

AFC South: The Colts are still the best team here, but the division looks to be one of the most competitive in the league. They’ll wind up with a good record, especially out of the division, but all three of the other teams here have the potential to surprise them at any time. The Texans actually look like they might be for real. I’m happy to see it, not to mention shocked, but taking the Shanahan philosophy throughout the NFL is clearly the right thing for football. Mario Williams continues to do well, and even Ahman Green is doing great now that he’s out from under the shadow of Favre. Tennessee is looking especially good right now. The defense is performing at a very high level, the running game is looking very good (LenDale White single-handedly beat Erik in our fantasy football matchup this week, which automatically adds a few points to his stock for me) and even the passing game looks pretty good. If Vince Young continues to improve those aspects in the way he’s started, he will soon be one of the elite QBs in the game. Even Jacksonville was able to win, angry as that makes me, but it would be hard for any team to beat eighteen play, twelve minute drives, it was very good game management from Del Rio, but other teams don’t seem to have the same problems stopping the run as Denver does this year, so we’ll see if they see similar success other places.

AFC West: They’re the worst division in the conference. I hate to say it, but it’s true. As good as some aspects of the Broncos’ game have been, some of it is atrocious, namely, the rush defense. For as good as their secondary is, there’s no reason to throw when teams can pull out so many quality runs. I think their problems scoring will ebb, but having to play the Colts the week after such a disgusting loss is going to be tough to watch. The Chiefs finally won a game, good for them. It’s no thanks to Larry Johnson, though, who continues to look poor. Next to last in points, next to last in rushing, and 29th in total offense does not make a scary team, even if they beat a defense that I look at as one of the best in the game. Ooh, the Raiders beat the Browns, I’m super impressed. We should crown their defense because Anderson didn’t throw five TDs this week. Lane Kiffin learns his lessons about cheap timeout management, so I guess that’s something. Maybe he can learn not to lose all the time, too. What I’m most happy about with the West, though, is just how bad San Diego looks. LT and Rivers are fighting, which makes me laugh; nobody is defending Norv any more, which makes me laugh; that the Broncos, who aren’t looking like great shakes right now, are the clear best in the division really makes me laugh. I have to laugh at something, Denver just lost to the Jags of all teams. Sad, just sad.

Blatantly Foolish

This bit from Peter Galbraith's article on how George W. Bush helped establish Iran as the Middle East's new regional hegemon deserves more attention:

"In May 2003, the Iranian authorities sent a proposal through the Swiss ambassador in Tehran, Tim Guldimann, for negotiations on a package deal in which Iran would freeze its nuclear program in exchange for an end to U.S. hostility. The Iranian paper offered "full transparency for security that there are no Iranian endeavors to develop or possess WMD [and] full cooperation with the IAEA based on Iranian adoption of all relevant instruments." The Iranians also offered support for "the establishment of democratic institutions and a non-religious government" in Iraq; full cooperation against terrorists (including "above all, al-Qaeda"); and an end to material support to Palestinian groups like Hamas. In return, the Iranians asked that their country not be on the terrorism list or designated part of the "axis of evil"; that all sanctions end; that the United States support Iran's claims for reparations for the Iran-Iraq war as part of the overall settlement of the Iraqi debt; that they have access to peaceful nuclear technology; and that the United States pursue anti-Iranian terrorists, including "above all" the MEK. MEK members should, the Iranians said, be repatriated to Iran.

Basking in the glory of "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq, the Bush administration dismissed the Iranian offer and criticized Guldimann for even presenting it. Several years later, the Bush administration's abrupt rejection of the Iranian offer began to look blatantly foolish, and the administration moved to suppress the story. Flynt Leverett, who had handled Iran in 2003 for the National Security Council, tried to write about it in the New York Times and found his Op-Ed crudely censored by the National Security Council, which had to clear it. Guldimann, however, had given the Iranian paper to Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, now remembered both for renaming House cafeteria food and for larceny. (As chairman of the House Administration Committee he renamed French fries "freedom fries" and is now in federal prison for bribery.) I was surprised to learn that Ney had a serious side. He had lived in Iran before the revolution, spoke Farsi, and wanted better relations between the two countries. Trita Parsi, Ney's staffer in 2003, describes in detail the Iranian offer and the Bush administration's high-handed rejection of it in his wonderfully informative account of the triangular relationship among the United States, Iran and Israel, Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the United States."

Parsi was quoted in a June 2006 Washington Post article on the Iranian offer:
"Parsi said that based on his conversations with the Iranian officials, he believes the failure of the United States to even respond to the offer had an impact on the government...Iranian officials decided that the United States cared not about Iranian policies but about Iranian power.

The incident "strengthened the hands of those in Iran who believe the only way to compel the United States to talk or deal with Iran is not by sending peace offers but by being a nuisance," Parsi said."

In other words, the aggressive unilateralism of our hardliners strengthened their hardliners. It bears repeating: Here we had Iran offering not just to talk, but even agreeing in advance to the U.S.'s main demands: transparency in Iran's nuclear program, cooperation in Iraqi security and reconstruction, and ending support for terrorism against Israel. Not only didn't the Bush administration pursue it, they didn't even respond. In a presidency almost completely defined by its successive foreign policy blunders, this will surely be remembered as one of the worst.

(Cross-posted to TAPPED)

Historical Image of the Day



Pisgah Presbyterian Church, Woodford County Kentucky, 1933

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Film Review--Eastern Promises (2007)

A lot about Eastern Promises, the new film from David Cronenberg, could have made it little more than standard mob fare. The Russian mob in the London streets, a woman in trouble and an abandoned baby have all been used plenty in second-rate thrillers, but his new film is anything but standard. Naomi Watts plays a London midwife who delivers the baby of a fourteen year old Russian junkie, who died during childbirth. She finds the girl’s diary in her purse, and in order to both try finding a home for the child and to satisfy her voyeurism, has her Russian uncle translate it. “Do you always rob the bodies of the dead?” he asks her, mortified and unwilling to meddle in the affairs of dead junkies. “Let her secrets be buried with her body.” But she finds a business card for a Russian restaurant where she finds the kindly Russian owner (Armin Mueller-Stahl) who claims to have never heard of the girl but becomes less kindly and strangely interested when she mentions the diary. He is more than happy to translate, but she must bring it to him so he can study it.

It isn’t much of a spoiler to say that the restaurateur is connected to the Russian underground and the dead girl had a close connection to him. The story isn't trying to trick anyone about this and, once the facts come clear, the mission becomes to keep the baby safe. Using this loose thriller plotting, Cronenberg creates a slice of life picture about the Russian mob. There are a few twists and turns along the way but, unlike much of his early work, this movie doesn’t throw in a lot of red herrings. Instead it offers a tightly-woven tale of buried secrets and power struggles in an unseen world that is more about tone and mood than crazy plotting. It is just this simplicity of plot that allows screenwriter Steve Knight to develop believable characters rich in depth and realistic in motivation. Knight also penned Stephen Frears’ excellent 2002 film Dirty Pretty Things, a film very similar in scope and tone, also about the underground world of immigrants in London.

Tight and well-written as it might be, the story is not what carries this film. Eastern Promises is a slow burn. The first five minutes are shocking in their violence (there were a few walkouts in the theater) but, once the story begins, the characters are given time to breathe and the mood is allowed to envelope the scenario. Much like A History of Violence, the violence is short and extremely intense, but the movement of the normal action is so slow that it seems that much more extreme. But none of this would be possible if not for the cast. The four principle actors are all perfect in their roles. Viggo Mortensen is getting the most mainstream attention for his performance of Nikolai, the chauffeur and “undertaker” for this mob family. While he isn’t even mentioned in the synopsis above, he is definitely the star of the movie. The film revolves around this character and Mortensen owns every scene he’s in. He is truly scary and tough (the considerable physical condition he’s in for this role doesn’t hurt) but, through the force of the performance, gives this villainous character more humanity than is usually warranted. He may be the crux, but Vincent Cassel and Mueller-Stahl add so much to this trio of Russians. While Cassel comes off as a caricature sometimes, his macho swagger and English slang cover a bank of secrets that really help to make his slimy stereotype make a lot of sense. The best performance, though, comes from Mueller-Stahl who, as a veteran of German stage and screen, gives a performance that adds depth with each successive scene. At times he is absolutely monstrous but, at the same time, he throws gala birthday parties for centenarians, discussing murder while arranging rose petals on a dish. It is simply amazing just how believably Russian these three actors, one American, one French and one German, seem; had I not seen any of them before, I could easily buy all three as native. On top of them is Naomi Watts, whose actions cause the string of events to occur. While she is playing the woman in trouble that she’s become known for, she does this very well and, as in Mulholland Drive, when she is given a quality script with quality people around her, she does an excellent job. Without this, she is often little more than a doe-eyed scream queen, but she has a lot more and really shows it here. That this fully realized mob story can be told adequately with, essentially, just these four characters, is fantastic and is a real testament to the overall quality of the production.

Because Cronenberg uses many of the same production people over and over, there is an overall consistency of style from film to film. But, more than that, using cinematographer Peter Suschitzky and composer Howard Shore in all his productions ensures a high level of quality and artistic trust. The photography is gorgeous here and displays the dark streets of London with rare beauty (in ways unseen since Cronenberg’s previous London-based film, 2002’s Spider). He is also able to seamlessly switch gears into showing the seedy opulence of the mob restaurant with equal skill, juxtaposing the worlds with restraint and a refreshing lack of tricks. No long tracking shots or special effect sequences here; just clean, efficient, well-framed shots that, with Shore’s music, makes the mood of Eastern Promises near perfect. Often the case, Shore’s scoring is subtle and unobtrusive, but uses strong Eastern European melodies and instrumentation to evoke the melancholy that permeates the film, adding overtones without directly commenting on the action onscreen.

While there are plenty of aspects of David Cronenberg’s films that have changed dramatically from his early work, it is surprising just how much of his style has stayed through the years and imprint his recent work with a signature that could only come from Cronenberg. In general, he keeps his stories and locations small. The only real exceptions to this are Naked Lunch and eXistenZ, which each take place over two very different world and are more broad-sweeping stories of intrigue (even if it’s all in the characters’ heads). Within these narrow structures he builds characters that don’t have to stretch too far and, as such, is able to dig more deeply into the emotion and humanity of these people. This humanity, and it’s parallel of dehumanization, is a key theme that connects these films and makes them consistently good. Early, he dealt with this dehumanization through technology and drugs, as in the case of his 1986 remake of The Fly. In the case of Eastern Promises, it comes from poverty and societal pressures. Cronenberg’s society is often darker than his machine and, in the case of this film, the greatest threat to this mob’s ivory tower is the person willing to fight and sacrifice for the sake of an orphan baby’s humanity.

An Inside Look at Union-Busting Seminars

Art Levine got inside a union-busting seminar. He produces a fascinating must-read out of it. If you haven't been exposed to evil lately, I highly recommend it.

Union busting has a long history in this nation and it has only become more intense in the last thirty years as American companies decided to break the long-term compact between themselves and workers in the name of higher profits.

Perhaps the most telling thing about Levine's story is the Jackson Lewis law firm, which specialize in union busting, telling companies they can lie about anything concerning unions:

"The labor board doesn’t really care if people are lying."

At this point, the National Labor Relations Board is a joke. Even under in Clinton is was unfriendly to workers. Now it is an active tool of industry and only forces to follow the law in a very open-ended and broad way. Lying? Not a problem in the least! I guess so long as you don't actually murder a union organizer, it's all good.

Jack Johnson and Racism

Last week, I had my students in my Gilded Age/Progressive Era course read Geoffrey C. Ward's Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson. Some readers have likely read the book (which I recommend highly). More may have seen the PBS series based upon it.

I have studied American history for a very long time now. I knew what to expect from early 20th century racist writers. And even I was amazed and shocked by the horrible stuff people wrote about Johnson.

I'll quote a few. It's not for your "pleasure" exactly. For your edification maybe. And a little shock value never hurts either. Anyway:


First, I found it amazing that whites cared so much about the heavyweight championship. The connections between boxing and white masculinity in this period would be amusing if they weren't so bloody disturbing.

From the Detroit Free Press:

"Is the Caucasian played out? Are the races we have been calling inferior about to demand of us that we draw the color line in everything if we are to avoid being whipped individually and collectively?" (130).

Boxer Jim Corbett agreed, blaming Tommy Burns for losing to Johnson:

"The white man has succumbed to a type which in the past was conceded to be his inferior in physical and mental prowess." (132)

Johnson eventually lost his title to Jess Willard in a match set in Havana. Herbert Bayard Swope wrote in the Chicago Tribune.

"Never in the history of the ring was there such a wild, hysterical, shrieking, enthusiastic crowd [as] the 20,000 men and women who begged Willard to wipe out the stigma that they and hundreds of thousands of others, especially in the south, believe rested on the white race through the negro holding the championship. Nowhere was the feeling stronger than in Cuba, whose race hatred is near the surface, although the negro is ostensibly received on a parity with the white." (377).

And then this lovely bit from the New York Times:

"Even those who have an absurdly exaggerated horror of prize fighting as a 'brutal' sport should gently warm in their sensitive minds a little hope that the white man may not lose, while the rest of us will wait in open anxiety the news that he [Jim Jeffries] has licked the--well, since it must be in print, let us say the negro, even though it is not the first word that comes to the tongue's tip." (165).

Subtle.

But not quite as subtle as this line from the Baltimore American expressing surprise of Johnson's relaxed nature before a fight.

"To all appearances, the black man is as happy and carefree as a plantation darky in Watermelon time." (197).

I could go on, but it's making me too depressed.

Giuliani: Bringing the Crazy to a World Near You

My new piece on Giuliani's war cabinet is up at The American Prospect.

Historical Image of the Day




Richard Hofstadter

Monday, September 24, 2007

Kornheiser

While I'm glad ESPN replaced Joe Theismann with Ron Jaworski for their Monday Night Football team, I really can't stand Tony Kornheiser on there. I don't have a problem with the guy generally, but he's a poor color commentator. Tonight, he is continually harping on the Saints poor history, claiming that they are not winning this year because they are cursed by the past or something. That is, of course, stupid. It's the same kind of stupid "analysis" you see with the Cubs and used to hear ad nauseum every fall about the Red Sox. If ESPN really wanted to include one of its people from the talking head side of things, why not Michael Wilbon? But really, Tirico and Jaworski would be plenty.

Learning a Dead Language

Over the last month, I've had to learn a language I thought was dead.

Am I learning Latin? I can hear you all ask this. No, I don't hate myself (quite) that much. And I'm not learning Greek either.

No, I am learning the Dewey Decimal System. My new school, Southwestern University, still uses Dewey. I am confused as all hell. I have no idea where anything is. Nothing makes any sense at all. I just follow the call numbers and so it's fine to search for books, but browsing effectively is nearly impossible at this point.

I know it's not the only school still using Dewey. The University of Montana does and I believe Yale does as well. But if there's a reason to have a strong central government, it's to enforce singular systems of classifying books. I feel like it's 1885, I own a rail car, and I come to realize that my new rail line is a narrow-gauge.

God that's a nerdy reference.

Did Bush Speak at Columbia Today?

People are outraged that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gave a speech today at Columbia University. I suspect that virtually no one would care if Ahmadinejad hadn't made his horrible remarks about Jews and the Holocaust, but that's another issue. The New York Times is featuring this comment by angry Columbia alum Dr. Stephen Steinlight:

"As a 1970 graduate of Columbia College, Columbia University, I’m profoundly ashamed of the University for extending this invitation to an exemplar of monstrous evil and a practitioner of torture and a supporter of terrorism.”

I am very sad to note that if I didn't know Ahmadinejad wasn't speaking today, I could easily have mistaken this statement as Steinlight objecting to a George W. Bush speech. And the sad thing is that I have every reason to believe that the statement fits Bush to a tee.

On a related note, check out this Philip Roth video. Roth talks about contemporary politics and compares Bush and Ahmadinejad.

Top 100 Country Songs?

I need to build on Matt's post about this top 100 country songs of all time list. This is arguably the stupidest list I've ever seen. Rather than vent on and on in an endless cycle of really bitchy paragraphs (for that you need to read my dissertation), I will just make a few short points.

1. "Ring of Fire" is not the greatest country song of all time. It's a great song. But it's not even Cash's best song for Christ's sake. This is just opinion I guess, but I'm not sure the people at Pop Matters have any valid reason for placing it there. What I think is that like so many people these days, they are jumping into the Johnny Cash hype head first. These days, young people simply assume that Cash is the greatest country artist of all time. They may have never even heard a Merle Haggard or Hank Williams, but they know that Cash is the best with all the certainty that only a 19 year old male can have.

Evidence for my point extends past "Ring of Fire." Three of the top 20 country songs ever by Cash? His cover of "Orange Blossom Special" as #8? Huh? What kind of special crack did they smoke here? Their justification, "Of the many versions of this fiddler’s classic, anyone can sing along with Johnny Cash’s cover of THE best train song ever." Well, then!

2. The writers of this last betray their ignorance through their pseudo-pithy one sentence explanations of the songs. The only Willie Nelson is "Whiskey River." This is pretty questionable to begin with. Wouldn't "Blue Eyes Cryin' in the Rain" be a clear choice? But their justification is off the charts dumb. "How many concerts have you attended that started with TWANG, TWANG, TWANG, TWANG, then these two words? We thought so."How many concerts have you attended that started with TWANG, TWANG, TWANG, TWANG, then these two words? We thought so. So I guess because Willie starts every show with "Whiskey River" it's great? What the hell kind of logic is this?

Not to mention some of it is just stupid. Their description of Brooks & Dunn's "Neon Moon" at #82: A wonderfully written ballad, with that unforgettable refrain, “watch your broken dreams dance in and out of the beams.” Allow to me now vomit.

3. Matt pointed out that he would think one would list a Hank song at #1. Certainly a valid point, though I'm not sure I would necessarily. But having only 3 Hank songs in the entire top 100 is off the charts bat-shit insane.

4. I'm not sure if they even understand the music's history. Listing 2 Conway Twitty songs is fine. I'm a big Conway supporter. But "It's Only Make Believe" isn't even a country song. It was when Conway was a rocker in the late 50s and he had a big hit with a song that sounded exactly like an Elvis song. Why is that on there? Because someone thought it didn't really sound country so it was cool?

5. Probably the biggest factor undermining the list's credibility is the back 50, particularly the 50-80 area. Here they make the mistake of assuming popularity=equality, odd for a supposedly hip music site. They end of the list is full of the dreck of country music from the last 15 years. I don't care how many units Garth Brooks, Tim McGraw, etc. moved. They suck. They don't belong on the list, at least if that list doesn't also plan to suck. That doesn't mean it all has to be old stuff. One might include a Dale Watson tune for instance. Keeping alt-country out of the fold was smart since it's really a whole different thing. But that doesn't mean people aren't still making good country music.

6. Any list without "Harper County, U.S.A." has no credibility at all.

Historical Image of the Day



Hinton Rowan Helper, antislavery activist

Sunday, September 23, 2007

On Tequila

Scott’s liquor blogging got me thinking about one of my own current hobbies: Tequila. As I wrote in comments over there, most of my formative tequila experiences, like probably many people, involved shots/margaritas with Cuervo Gold or worse, and then later, in the morning, writhing in pain in bed, clutching my flaming skull and screaming at god to kill me. A few years ago, a buddy of mine brought a bottle of fresh mezcal back from Mexico, and I loved it. In trying to find something like it, I began sampling 100% agave tequilas, and have been a convert ever since. Though I do occasionally enjoy a nice, big margarita (I would not have survived this summer in DC without them) I tend to think that any tequila worth putting in a margarita is better taken neat, in a lowball glass, or, if you're a big fancy-pants, in a snifter.

I generally prefer the blanco (also known as plata, platinum, or silver), clear, unaged tequila. This is where the agave flavor comes through the strongest. I like a few reposados ("rested" in charred oak barrels between two months and a year) and fewer still anejos (aged a least a year), though some connoisseurs insist that the latter represents the height of the tequilero's art. I disagree. While there's no question that quite a few reposados and anejos achieve a very impressive balance of flavors, for me there's nothing like the crisp, peppery finish of a good blanco.

As for brands, my number one fave is El Tesoro de Don Felipe. Interestingly, this bottle is less expensive than some of the other top-shelf brands like Don Julio, Casa Noble, and Herradura, all of which are great tequilas, but, in my opinion, don't come close to El Tesoro's flavor. Even in El Tesoro's anejo, the agave is right up front. A few other good brands to look for are Corralejo, El Charro, and Cazadores. Is it noon yet?

Historical Image of the Day



Civil War Colonel John B. Turchin, sacker of Athens, Alabama

Interesting link to the story here. Of course, I'd feel a lot more sorry for the town if they hadn't committed treason in defense of slavery.

More Revelations from Military Archives in Brazil?

Today's Akron Beacon-Journal (yes, the Akron newspaper) has a quick blurb in its global reporting that reads the following:
"Files to be Opened
Brazil's Supreme Court has ordered the armed forces to open secret files and reveal what happened to the remains of Brazilians who died or disappeared in a guerrilla uprising against a 1964-85 military dictatorship."

My guess is, the "guerilla uprising" it references is the maoist Partido Comunista do Brasil's efforts to create focos in the Araguaia River region in an effort to overthrow the military government in the early 1970s. Although the military originally simply arrested the combatants it caught, it soon began simply executing and disposing of the bodies of the combatants. Unfortunately, I can't find any news on this story anywhere online - the English media is consumed with Fujimori (an important story in its own right that could lead to the settling of human rights issues in Peru), and the Brazilian media is still harping on Renan Calheiros. Still, if the court has ruled this, and has the means to enforce this decision, this could really open up some important material on exactly what the military did to combatants in Araguaia in the early 1970s. Here's hoping this will go through.

I didn't even realize Rex Humbard was still ALIVE

So, on the very day that I return to Akron for one week, it turns out televangelist Rex Humbard died (as did Marcel Marceau - what strange times we live in). Humbard's name is hardly known among the under-40 crowd today, but his importance to American culture unfortunately is rather large. He was the first televangelist, allegedly starting his TV ministry after seeing crowds gathered around a TV in the window of an O'Neill's department store in Akron in 1952, where the crowds were watching an Indians-Yankees game (I hope to God the Indians killed them that day). Humbard was inspired and "called" to do his ministering on the television, eventually raking in millions of dollars and inspiring the likes of Ernest Angeley (also based in Akron - don't ask me how these yahoos ended up here, I have no clue), Jimmy Swaggart, and James Baker, among others. Many kids today don't realize how huge televangelism used to be, which in some ways is great (less influence), and in some ways is a shame (no understanding of history). For better or worse (ok - for worse), televangelism changed the ways religion was practiced in the U.S. in the latter half of the twentieth century, and many of the evangelical movements today take a lot of their practices (the cheesy, non-descript, over-the top buildings, the cult of personality, the "7-11" songs [a song with seven words that you sing 11 times]) from televangelism's methods. Thus, while his name isn't well known, Humbard is a rather important figure in American cultural history in the last 50 years.

On a far more local note about Humbard, it's interesting to note how he's recalled in Akron. The CNN obit says that Humbard "overreached" financially. That's putting it lightly. Turns out, he spend way too much money on building this 400+ foot concrete monstrosity just inside Cuyahoga Falls (originally, it should have had a spinning restaurant on its top). The tower was never finished, and Humbard soon moved to Florida. As a result, this tower (now a cell-phone tower) is commonly known here as "Rex's last erection". As an Akron resident, I couldn't think of a better way to remember Humbard.

Irony: A Tool, Not a Raison D'Etre

On their blog, the Bad Plus defend their choice of modern pop and rock cover tunes from the charge of "irony":

"Irony -- and its allies: surrealism, sardonicism, and dementia -- do occasionally play roles in our music, just as it does in the work of many artists we admire. Consider some famous performances of jazz standards: What is more ironic than Thelonious Monk's "Just a Gigolo?" What is more surreal than Duke Ellington's trio version of "Summertime?" What is more sardonic than Charlie Parker's quote of "Country Gardens" at the end of many ballads? And what is more demented than Django Bates' "New York, New York?"

But just like with those artists, irony is just a small part of the story in The Bad Plus. Here's our real story: We love songs. We believe in the power of song. We write songs as well as we can. There is not anything in TBP's repertory that is not based on melody, originals included. Thinking that we are not serious about the melodies we play is incorrect.

Once, a very straight-ahead jazz player came up to us after a gig and said, "You know, I'm surprised! 'Heart of Glass' is actually a good song!" Hell yeah it is."

Hell yeah it is. One of the reasons I think a lot of people find jazz so inaccessible is that it tends to rely on a reportoire of "standards" that were never experienced by modern audiences as popular songs in the first place, and thus provide no entry point for audiences to appreciate what the musician is doing with it. That's why I really like what the Bad Plus does with their choice of "new standards," taking familiar pop songs and recognizing them as compositions worth exploring, (I think the greatest example of a modern artist doing this is probably Hendrix's "Star-Spangled Banner") and why their approach has never struck me as overly ironic. That they get tagged so often as "ironists" says more about critics' inability to approach music on its own terms, and their fear of being seen as "not getting the joke," than about the band.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Rare Environmental Optimism

I don't want anyone out there to think there is a realistic possibility that humans won't completely destroy the rest of the natural world during this century, but this is good news about the Brazilian Atlantic forest. As detailed in depressing detail in Warren Dean's With Broadax and Firebrand, Europeans have completely decimated this forest since their arrival in the early 16th century. At present, 8% is left.

I have seen small bits of this 8%. It's incredibly beautiful. Shockingly so. I admit to being a huge lover of jungle (a scandalous admission I know), so maybe I'm biased, but that forest is lovely. Sadly I didn't see the righteously cool monkey pictured on the link.

As fragmented and threatened as this forest is, if protected it could make a serious comeback very quickly. Nature is resilent, so long as we don't grind it to the roots like hungry goats.

Lyrad's Random 10

Cellos and pop music aren't mixed very often, but Melora Creager, who grunge fans will recognize as the cellist for some of Nirvana's live performances, and her revolving door of supporting players have done good work since 1992 with a trio of them and the occasional drummer. They combine their chamber rock sound with Victorian dress and gothic subject matter which, while the presentation can be pretty cheesy, is a consistently unique style. Though they carry a lot more substance than their Swedish contemporaries, Apocolyptica, who exclusively do metal covers with a cello quartet, some of my favorite songs from Rasputina are their covers, namely Melanie Safka's "Brand New Key" off Thanks for the Ether and Leslie Gore's "You Don't Own Me" off How We Quit the Forest. In 1999, they released a full album of covers that includes the below Velvet Underground song and an especially creepy and effective version of CCR's "Bad Moon Risin'." As cover albums should be, though rarely are, the songs are all completely rearranged to fit Rasputina's sound.

1. Rasputina--All Tomorrow's Parties
2. Eric Clapton--They're Red Hot
3. Neurosis--Zero
4. Roberto Rodriguez & Irving Fields--Pago Pago
5. Ennio Morricone--Metafora Finale (from the soundtrack to Cat o Nine Tails)
6. Johannes Brahms--Sonata No.3 in d for Violin & Piano, Op.108, 3.Un poco presto e con sentimento (Ruggiero Ricci, Vn; Cordelia Hoffer, Pn)
7. Melvins w/Foetus--Mine Is No Disgrace
8. Arnold Dreyblatt--Epilogue
9. Claude Debussy--Images 1 for Piano; 2.Hommage a Rameau (Francois Chaplin, Pn)
10. John Coltrane--Syeeda's Song Flute

The Big 10 Sucks

God, I hate Big 10 football. Even the SEC is more exciting. A terrible Michigan team is likely going to win against #10 Penn St., supposedly a powerhouse this year. Penn St. has managed to put up a whole 6 points. In case anyone needs a reminder, Appalachian St. scored 32 on them and Oregon 39. Mr. Trend and other Big 10 defenders always used to say that the difference between the Pac 10 and Big 10 was that the Big 10 knew how to play defense. With Michigan, we know that's not true. If you have any kind of offense at all, you can score big on them. But with Joe Pa and other dinosaurs, whether in age or thought, roaming Big 10 sidelines, we can always feel confident in seeing 35 runs up the middle. Great.

Link of the Day: Women in the Civil Rights Movement

This article proves their might be a silver lining to the fall of TimeSelect after all.

I can't recommend strongly enough Gail Collins' short piece about the neglected role of women in the Civil Rights Movement. Not only were women unjustly relegated to secondary positions within the movement, but other than Rosa Parks, they are rarely mentioned in most popular narratives of civil rights. This is a tragedy.

Climate Change Legislation

Yglesias has a nice summary of what the different climate change bills floating around would accomplish. The answer--not too much. There are some decent bills out there. The Sanders/Boxer/Waxman bill is pretty strong. But even if that were to be passed, industry will do everything in its power to water down the regulations and undermine the bill's spirit by claiming this will destroy the American economy. Hell, industry will do the same thing with the more moderate bills too.

Worse, climate change is not even a major issue in the presidential election. I would be shocked if any of these bills gets passed before the election. I would be even more shocked if Americans actually decide to implement the bill's provisions and make real changes to their lifestyle to save the planet.

Historical Image of the Day



Hamilton Gamble, Chief Justice of Missouri Supreme Court, opponent of Dred Scott decision

Friday, September 21, 2007

Friday Guitar Blogging



Jeff Beck.

Let the Outrage Begin

Pop Matters rates the 100 Best Country Music songs. It seems obvious to me that a Hank Williams tune should be at the top, but apparently not.

Water Privatization in Indonesia

Color me less than shocked that water privatization schemes in Indonesia have only exacerbated water problems. Like so many nations, Indonesia faced massive pressure from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to privatize their social services in the 1990s. Facing real problems from the Asian economic collapse in 1997-98, Indonesia agreed to do so. Bill Guerin explores the failures of privatizing the water system of Jakarta. His findings:

"Yet ever since Jakarta's water supply was formally privatized in 1997, prices have risen astronomically while access has dwindled for poor residents. Nearly half of Jakarta's residents now lack a piped water connection, more than the entire urban population of Brazil's Rio de Janeiro, a World Bank sanitation specialist recently noted."

Privatization was simply foisted upon the Indonesian people, and even the government. The process for taking over the water system was not open to the public. There were no public bids on the contracts. No public debate took place. Immediately upon the French and British conglomerates taking over, water prices for Jakarta residents skyrocketed. Water went up 20% in 1998 and another 35% in 2001. Millions of impoverished Jakarta residents could not afford to pay for the most basic element of human existence.

What did the companies do with those profits? They pocketed them. Water supplies did not improve. Jakarta remained depended on dwlinding underground water resources. Promised improvements in the city's shaky water infrastructure never happened.

The Indonesia government is claiming it will resist further privatization schemes. The two major conglomerates have recently pulled out, leaving Jakarta in the lurch. Can the Indonesian government fix the problems building for the last decade? I'm pretty skeptical given the nation's poverty and governing problems. Perhaps they can stop the situation from worsening. But Indonesia will feel the fallout from privatization for a very long time to come.

Erik's Random 10

Loretta Lynn's Van Lear Rose, of which "Mrs. Leroy Brown" is a key track, was a remarkable achievement for a country musician completely forgotten by anyone under the age of 35. There's probably not too much I can say here that others failed to when the album came out. Jack White deserves immense credit here for producing this album. It's natural comparison of course is the Rick Rubin produced Johnny Cash albums. While I'd probably take the first Cash album over the Loretta, I most definitely prefer her work to the rest of the Cash albums. One of The White Stripes albums is dedicated to Loretta. All their fans thought it was some kind of ironic remark slamming on the music of their parents and grandparents. Of course, it wasn't. They love Loretta and old American musicians of many genres. Loretta still writes songs all the time, but like many artists when they age and are famous, she hadn't taken any risks in 25 years. Hopefully, White or another good producer gets with Loretta and they put out some more quality albums.

Also, I hope Meg White gets over her anxiety problems soon and The White Stripes can get back on the road.

1. Loretta Lynn, Mrs. Leroy Brown
2. Marc Ribot, Surf's Down
3. Lucinda Williams, I Lost It
4. Alex J. Chávez, Morena
5. Merle Travis & Joe Maphis, Freight Train
6. Waylon Jennings & Jessi Colter, Under Your Spell Again
7. Wilco, Christ for President
8. Laurie Galluccio, These Diamonds Are My Very
9. Dave Alvin, Help Me Baby
10. Carla Kilhstedt, Lonely Ugly

Historical Image of the Day



Stone Wharves, Rockport, MA

Thursday, September 20, 2007

New Comic-Based Links

As with at least two of my co-bloggers, I have long been disgusted at the un-funny nature of modern comics. Here are two related links I find hilarious.

If you've never seen Marmaduke Explained, check it out. Writing with two basic premises in mind--a) Marmaduke is an asshole and b) Marmaduke is a shitty cartoon, Joe Mathlete explains each day's edition.

Second is The Nietzsche Family Circus which randomly matches up a Family Circus cartoon with a Nietzsche quote. Just hit refresh for more. It's quite entertaining.

The Dangers of Teaching, Part 7: Double Entendre Edition

Allow me to revive a long dormant series about teaching.

I was talking to my environmental history class about how the fur trade changed animal populations. I was discussing how trapping beaver ultimately mattered less to the Native American cultures of the Great Lakes than killing off deer, bear, and bison populations, because they ate those animals and didn't usually eat beav.... Thank God I stopped myself in time, but not before there was some good ol' nervous laughter throughout the room.

Historical Image of the Day



Daniel Alexander Payne, bishop of African Episcopal Methodist Church. Co-Founder and first president of Wilberforce University

"Tenía que ser el Chavo del 8!"

When I lived in Costa Rica, one of the few TV programs I watched was Mexico's 1970s comedy, "El Chavo". "El Chavo" starred Roberto Goméz Bolaños (who also starred in "El Chapulin", a program that preceded "El Chavo" but that was not as foolishly amusing to me). "El Chavo" was far from brilliant - the comedic narrative and trajectory of an entire episode can be mapped out within the first 2 minutes or so. Still, the show was amusing, and was a great way to try to improve my Spanish after a long day of classes. In this regard, I joined millions of citizens across multiple generations in Latin America and the United States in having "El Chavo" as a part of my past (it is still broadcast all over the place - I know for a fact they still rerun it here in Brazil in the afternoons, and I caught it on one of the Spanish-language channels in New Mexico when I lived there).

So imagine my surprise to learn that, in a new book, Columbian drug lord Gilberto Rodriguez Orejuela is alleging Bolaños (as well as many other artists and actors) performed at parties held by the Cali Cartel. Bolaños is denying the charges, and it's not like a drug lord is the most reputable person. Hopefully, they are baseless and factless allegations, and Bolaños never did anything like this. Nonetheless, it's not out of the realm of possibility. Strange times....

Now THAT'S something I've never seen in sports before...

For those who enjoy soccer, or even simple remarkable feats of athleticism, right now, there's nothing quite like Cruzeiro (Minas Gerais) forward Kerlon's "seal dribble", in which he literally runs down the field while bouncing the ball on his head. It's totally legal, and, save for a foul (a technique which intra-state rivals Clube Atlético Mineiro used on Sunday), it's unstoppable. Check out the video at the links. Remarkable stuff...(oh, and he's only 19 - one more promise for Brazil's World Cup hopes).

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

NFL 2007 Week 2: NFC Edition

NFC EAST: What was, just a few years ago, the most competitive division in football has turned into a complete mess. The Cowboys reign supreme and their first two games have shown their dominance over the rest of the division. I hate to say it, but they look like one of the elite teams in the NFC (excuse me while I throw up). Now, they’ll be getting a boost at DT when Tank Johnson comes back, which should make their defense even stronger. They’re going to continue to have problems in the secondary, though, unless they can do something about Roy Williams, and teams with brutal passing attacks are going to eat them for lunch. I really thought the Eagles were going to be better this year, but they look as inept right now as they have in a long time. McNabb looks bad, overthrowing everyone in sight, and Brian Westbrook, who should have been McNabb’s out as he’s been for a few years, has struggled to get going. They may have lost on Monday, but they’re better than the Redskins. Their 2-0 record is a sham. Jason Campbell and Clinton Portis still haven’t gotten anything going, and I’m not sure if the former Bronco standout will be anything more than a footnote at this point in his career. Still, neither team is as bad as the Giants. It is looking more and more clear that this will be Tom Coughlin’s last year, and it could be Manning’s too. Now that he’s playing with a separated shoulder, he might wind up really hurting his arm and turning into Chad Pennington, and I know New York can’t handle two of those.

NFC North: The Hulk Hogan of the NFL has done it again, but a Favre led Packers will, once again, be going nowhere. Sure, they beat the Giants, but my old flag football team could do that. They have no running game, poor receivers and a lackluster defense. The question is, with their early success, will this lead Favre to the belief that “just one more year and we’ll do it.” Sorry Brett, you may be breaking John Elway’s records, but you are no John Elway. Chicago should be happy that they were able to play a team like the Chiefs to give them a little confidence. Unfortunately (if, in this one case), they’ll be playing the Cowboys, who are going to take whatever confidence they gained away and stuff it in their big, stupid ten gallon hat. If Minnesota can keep it up, they may have one of the best defenses in some time. They have been dominant against, admittedly, poor teams. They have no real passing attack to speak of so, unless their opponents are stupid and don’t put eight in the box against Peterson, they’re going to have to let their defense win games for them. I think I remember a team like this just last year, and I think they were in the Super Bowl. They lost. Then we have Detroit who, like the Redskins, is an extremely deceptive 2-0. For the sake of winning, they allowed “Mr. Guarantee” Kitna to come back from the worst concussion of his career and re-enter the game. Brilliant management, and a brilliant display of all macho disregard of players’ health but, what can I say, he was touched by God, so I guess that’s all ok.

NFC South: Carolina looks to be surprisingly good once more despite the same deficiencies they’ve had for a long time. They lost at home to the ultra-shocking Texans, which hurts, but they’ll still win the division hands down. Tampa is not what they seem. They may be .500 right now, but it won’t last, and the woefulness of Jeff Garcia and Pinto Williams will soon rear their ugly heads. That Joey Galloway looks so good after this long is crazy but, since he’s on my fantasy team, I’m all for it. Plus, they beat the Saints, which is looking like less and less a feat every week. Why am I so glad the Saints are failing? Because I like to be right, of course. Reggie Bush is inept at running the ball professionally. Anybody who still believes that Bush should have been taken by Houston as the first pick should look at what the Texans D-Line is doing compared to the Saints’ rushing “attack.” I still say that Bush would make a superior cornerback, but he’s entirely too arrogant to accept such a change. Once again, there’s very little to say about Atlanta. Byron Leftwich is no more mobile than Joey Football, so it’s going to be a sack-fest to rival Houston at their worst.

NFC West
: This division continues to confuse me. I still think the Seahawks are the best in the division, but their play thus far has not reflected it one bit. The trouble is, who is actually better? The Cardinals? They beat the Seahawks last week, but it was the first time in two years that Edgerrin James has had a game where he looks like a good running back. If that continues, fine, they might be good this year. If he slides back to where he’s been, nobody will be fooled and they’ll double cover the receivers, which will give their opponents all they need to neutralize Matt Leinart. Will it be the Rams? They look like the worst in the division right now, despite their talent. I can’t imagine that Stephen Jackson was a flash in the pan, but his goal of breaking the all-time rushing record was a stupid thing to say and will be harder and harder to accomplish with every week like this. At this point, he has to average 142 yards per game to break the record. I like you Stephen Jackson, but good luck with that. San Francisco is 2-0, but they’re hanging on by their stupid chins. They’ve had no offensive production so far at all and they won’t continue their winning ways at all. I still say it’ll be the Seahawks, but I’m probably wrong. Whoever it is will not do too well against the rest of the elite teams in the conference, so they can just play for bragging rights amongst themselves and call it a day.

Edward Abbey, Racist

Just in case any one needs a reminder of what an awful person Edward Abbey was, allow me to quote a 1988 anti-immigration screed where he called immigrants a bunch of, "hungry, ignorant, unskilled, and culturally-morally-genetically impoverished people."

Not the kind of person environmentalists should be looking at heroically.

Historical Image of the Day



Indian and convict labor, Presidio, San Francisco, 1815

Over 50 Rio de Janeiro Police Arrested

Monday, 56 cops from Duque de Caxias were arrested for their involvement in the drug trade (Duque de Caxias is a part of greater Rio de Janeiro), providing yet another example in which the police are as much (if not moreso) a source of the violence in the favelas as the actual drug lords are. The media is (of course) swarming all over this story, but failing to provide any real analysis, instead relying on the straightforward "X-number cops charged with Y crimes" without asking why they would turn to such activities (despite the arrest of over 120 officers in Rio alone this year, it's just some "rogue" elements, instead of a broader issue of low pay, poverty, and power coming together).

I previously commented on my skepticism that any authorities in Rio (the city or the state) would ever really do anything important about this issue, yet once again, governor Sergio Cabral has come out, saying this will not stand and future cases will also be dealt with harshly. I'm still not sure that this is going to amount to much in the way of policy-change in how Rio uses its police in the favelas, but given that this arrest of 53 officers follows the arrest of another 70+ in January is at least giving some evidence that the government has the will to combat corruption and violence within the police force. Of course, it's still just rhetoric, and any real policy has yet to come out. Likewise, the efforts to curb police violence thus far have only involved those involved in the drug trade, or those committing such heinous violence that it can't go unnoticed (as was the case with the dismemberment of José Silva last week, or when it became clear in June that two cops unprovokedly punched an unarmed guy in the face and then shot him dead in February) - they haven't extended to punishment for the shooting of civilians in gun-battles in the favelas.

I still agree with one commenter on Globo's webpage, who said the problem is at the top of the police force, not the bottom, and that these arrests were just "For the English to see" ("pra inglês ver"). Still, if Cabral (or other leaders of the government) start implementing policy that affects change throughout the police force on top of these arrests, things may start changing here. I remain skeptical, but the picture is different than it was just 10 months ago.

And Yet Even More Wrist-Slitting News on Climate Change

Gil Friend points us to a New Yorker ad from Architecture 2030, a group working toward green architecture, something I fully support. They rightly point out:

Home Depot is funding the planting of 300,000 trees in cities across the US to help absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions... The CO2 emissions from only one medium-sized (500 MW) coal-fired power plant, in just 10 days of operation, will negate this entire effort.

There are a mere 151 coal-fired power plants in development in the United States.

Thus, the planting of all the trees we can is completely meaningless in fighting global warming so long as we continue to demand more energy use and are happy using coal to fulfill our insatiable lust.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

NFL 2007 Week 2: AFC Edition

Things start to get more clear in the second week of the season and, while it's early yet, it seems that the cream is rising to the top more quickly than usual. Plus, I nearly fall dead once again.

AFC East: The Patriots may be cheaters (along with every other team in the league in one way or another, so who really cares), but they are quickly establishing themselves as the best in the AFC, even if the rest of their division looks simply terrible. They dismantled the Chargers like nobody has in two years. When it was 24-0 at the half, they quit trying and still kept the second half score tied. The Jets lost to a good team, and put points up on a really good defense, but with their quarterback troubles, they aren't going anywhere. I wouldn't be surprised to see that Pennington has played his last game in New York, given that he was supposedly good to play on Sunday but didn't. Buffalo looked even worse yesterday than they did a week ago, and got none of the breaks they did at Denver. It's hard to say who will be at the bottom of the division at this point, since the Dolphins also have looked exceptionally bad. The Cowboys are looking like a good team but, next to the Dolphins, they look better than they are.

AFC North: The Steelers have outscored their opponents so far 60-10...that is ridiculous. They didn't look quite as sharp this week as last, but this team is an offensive and a defensive machine. The rest of the division can fight it out for a wild card. I don't care what happened yesterday, the Browns will have nothing to do with a wild card berth. Derrick Anderson was barely capable of handling college football, let alone the pros. He took advantage of an opportunity and a very poor defense to do little more than fool fantasy owners into believing he's worth a damn. Guess what...he isn't. Just wait until the next two weeks until he's benched for Brady Quinn. The Bengals must shore up their defensive issues or they're going to have "half a hundred" hung on them every week. What looked decent in week one turned into garbage into week two. Their fate may be more questionable than any other team in the league. The Ravens have the best chance to be second here. Their defense is still dominant and they'll win the same way they've won for a decade. They don't look like an elite level team, but they're going to hurt some offenses over this season.

AFC South: I can't believe I'm writing this but the Texans, after the second week, still look like a real team. We'll see, since they have to play a lot of good teams, but they're impressive so far. If Andre Johnson can't play for a couple of weeks, they'll be in trouble. They have the Colts this coming week which will be a test I don't think they'll pass, but they are showing a lot of potential. Is it possible that Indy is a better team than they were last year? That's hard to believe, but they've been dynamite on all levels. The Titans played a spirited game against them, but they're just not in the Colts' class. Vince Young is looking better every week and the threat of Chris Brown and LenDale White is formidable. They should be tough for anybody who they play. Less tough will be the Jaguars, who may be 1-1, but have had one of the most inept offenses over those two weeks. They are going to be mauled in the division and likely outside of it. What happened to Jones-Drew? Defenses have figured out that he can run, so they guard against him and he can't break a tackle. Without anything else to hang their hat on, there won't be much going for Jack Del Rio besides his wardrobe.

AFC West: The Broncos may be 2-0, but I'm 2-0 for heart attacks this year too, and I wish it would stop. They are first in the NFL in total offense with 455.5 yards per game and second in defense with 218.5 per game, but they just can't seem to make it into the endzone. This must stop. Where are the Chargers this year? With Norv Turner as coach, they're exactly where they belong. When a coach can't call plays that net LT a hundred yards total in two games, you're doing something wrong. They are the big disappointment of the NFL (even if I'm thrilled). They've played two very tough teams, and they won't be so pathetic against worse teams, but they have some hills to climb. Speaking of failing running backs, Larry Johnson's looking as bad as his team. Maybe they need to start handing the ball off every down again, but Huard looks terrible and if Brody Croyle was worth anything, he'd already be in there. Given their age, these guys will be failures for years to come. But no failures match that of the Raiders. Yes, they put up a fight in Denver, but what they really did was take advantage of the opportunities the Broncos afforded to them. They will compete closely with the Chiefs for worst in the division, but not to worry Oakland, your team will win out.