Thursday, July 13, 2006

Tao Te Todd

I've been thinking lately of writing a small book of wisdom. You know the kind: a wafer-thin assemblage of mind farts designed to "impart some of the lessons I've accrued here..." (The quote, Grasshopper, is from Rushmore. When you can watch this film without leaving a trace on the DVD player, then you will be ready to leave the Temple.)

Where was I? Ah, yes. I want to do my part, however humble, to improve humanity by advising it, as best I can in my capacity as a mortal with an average I(and E)Q, on how to make the earth a better place for all of us. A modest ambition, really. Not unlike Lao Tsu, who wrote the Tao Te Ching on his way out of China sometime around the 5th Century B.C.E.

You see, the Empire in which he lived (plus ca change!) was also full of shit, and he, like me (like you, dear reader?), could not take it anymore. So he moved to Canada. I mean Mongolia. Well, it may not have been called that then. I didn't major in Pre-Modern East Asian History. The point is he couldn't take it anymore, and since starting a progressive blog was not an option at that time, he up and left. of the border guards was tipped off. Did he arrest Lao Tsu and put his skinny ass in Abu Ghraibuson? No. He knew Lao Tsu was a wise man, so he simply asked him if, on the way out, he wouldn't mind annotating a few pearls of you know what, something for the beleaguered guard to hang onto amid all the madness. And Lao Tsu, sweet fellow that he was, composed 81 brief chapters for that guardian of Empire. Next to the Sermon on the Mount, it may be the greatest explosion of humane common and uncommon sense in history. What's it all about? For the uninitiated, the Tao is a bit like Confucius minus the authoritarianism.

Anyhoos. I want to write something equally valuable, equally concise. Because let's face it, we live in times when so-called wise men, so-called statesmen are capable of bloviating for days without saying anything at all, at least not anything worth a damn. Maybe it's a liability issue - perhaps speaking the truth can get you sued, not for malpractice, but for practice. I don't know. I do know the Turks say, "Whoever tells the truth is chased out of nine villages," and nobody needs that. Still, the truth is begging for our help. For my help. And I want to help. I want to help myself. I want to help you.

That's as far as I've gotten. The desire to help. I sit down to write, but it isn't easy knowing where to start. The baseness of contemporary politics and how we remedy that? No. Maybe greed, and how if we can overcome our avarice, we can finally create a world economic system that allows us to be good to one another and still keep our digital cable and (hydrogen powered) SUVs. No. It's got to be about religion, right? About how the left doesn't hate Jesus (although, let's face it, if this poor, oppressed, Mediterranean Jewish peasant, this hardworking carpenter and part-time rabbi, had any idea that based on a few of his speeches we'd get hillbillies shaking poisonous snakes at each other up in the hollers of West Virginny, he'd probably have kept his mouth shut and gone home) no, what we hate is the idea that because you believe in Jesus - and a peculiar version of him at that - you somehow have the right to tell the other 75% of the country how to live. Hmm...

You see how hard this is? Especially because I've been pretty busy lately what with helping plan my upcoming wedding and I haven't been getting a whole lot of sleep. I mean, let me spell it out for you folks, I'M TIRED. And that's when it hit me. EUREKA! HOOVER! DYSON! We're all so tired, maybe that is affecting the state of the world. When I really asked myself, "What would I do right now if I could do anything to get the world off on the right foot for the next thousand years?" I realized that hiring a Samurai to take out Ann Coulter wouldn't cut it, because she's just a hateful blowhard, and hateful winds blow, and hateful winds die, without any help from me. So here's what I came up with. Feel free to comment. I look forward to hearing your thoughts (just remember, I was tired when I began this post, and I'm even tireder now):

1. I would force the entire population of the world to participate in a general strike that would last one week. For a week, nobody could do a lick of work. Not the CEOs of the Fortune 500, not the janitor at your daughter's school, not the President, not Kos, not the good guys, and not the evil doers. Everybody, you're on vacation! During that same week, I would disable every electrical appliance known to man, and all the power plants generating power for them. That means for one week no lights but the sun moon and stars, no TV, no Playstation, no internets, no mobile phones, nothing. For this week, you get up with the sunrise, and go to bed with the sunset. Yep, folks, for one week you reset your clock to the old Circadian rhythms of life. In short, for one whole week, you get enough sleep. (GOD, THAT SOUNDS SO GOOD RIGHT NOW!)

That's it. After a week of the whole world finally getting enough sleep, our eyelids no longer twitching, our bodies no longer fatigued, our minds refreshed, sharp, attentive, we sit down and decide about


An Honest Question

This has been bugging me. I have a gay friend, a very old friend in fact, from high school. And he met this guy at a dance club our sophomore year in college, and by some miracle they are still together 18 years later. Among all of us in that clique of 18 year old Reagan-haters, poetry scrawlers, new wave music tasters, play makers, and academic decatheletes, they have had the longest lasting and most successful union, but they can't get married because they live in Houston. So what if they started a successful business, purchased two homes, continue to pay taxes out the yin yang like any successful couple? Because a group of angry, frightened old men (aka the Republican Congress) decided there is nothing more dangerous than homos in love, their union goes unrecognized by the state, and all that they hold in common remains in jeopardy. Gay marriage, say the angry, frightened (possibly closeted) old men, is a threat to the other kind of marriage - the kind Brittany Spears enjoyed for 48 hours one weekend when what happened in Vegas most certainly did not stay in Vegas; the kind Newt Gingrich had, so wholesome, secure and chock full of family values that he went to see his wife who was DYING OF CANCER and asked her to sign their divorce papers from her hospital bed, like the marriage of representative Henry Hyde (R - Hypocrisy) kept in fighting trim by his mistress of 17 years.

But it's OK because those folks all played it straight. Fucked up, but straight. And now here I am getting married in two weeks, and it isn't fair. It just isn't.

But my question, now I've digressed, is how the hell can these Republicans be so afraid of gay people when they've spent the last six years greedily and gleefully sucking George Bush's cock?

Friday, June 09, 2006

Don't Tread on Me, Kos

Pardon the belligerent sounding title. I was referring to an old flag of the American Revolution and how it might serve as one possible banner for a renewed Democratic party.

While I enjoyed Kos' recent diary "The Libertarian Dem," his suggestion sounds like yet another semantic ploy, a way of distinguishing ourselves not from the Republicans but from other Dems by claiming to be, in the words of that old chestnut, "A Different Kind of Democrat." Haven't we been down this road before? DLC, Third Way, Blue Dog Dem, Progressive vs. Liberal? All this does is buy into the premise of our opponents, namely that there is something inherently wrong with the Democratic Party as presently constituted. It buys into the Establishment Dem idea that all we need to do to win is come up with better advertising, when what we really need are candidates unafraid to stand up for traditional Democratic values. Polls and a recent diary demonstrate that when people know where we stand, we win. Tester exemplifies this. It is not our ideology or party name that needs changing. It's our candidates. We don’t need a new Party; we need new Democrats. Proud Democrats who stand and fight can win. New labels do nothing but contribute to the idea that we are running away from who we are. If "Democrat" was good enough for Harry Truman, it's good enough for me. This might seem like nitpicking, but if we are afraid of our own name (and its proud tradition), why would anyone vote Democrat?

As for the Libertarians, can we please avoid any association with their ilk? These are people who read too much Ayn Rand as undergrads and never fully recovered. Their philosophy is slightly less coherent than Scientology. If we hope to pluck the low-hanging SOBS (which I define as moderates and conservatives who are Sick Of Bush's Shit), why not attack Republicans "from the right" by adopting the glorious motto of our own American Revolution: Don't Tread on Me.

Americans can't seem to get enough of the Founding Fathers and the Revolution they started. One of the flags of that Revolution may hold the key to a Democratic resurgence. Called a Gadsden flag, it shows a coiled rattlesnake on a yellow field with the famous motto: Don't Tread on Me. I think this is a better response to Bush's bullshit than ill-advised name games. NSA hacking your computer and listening in on your calls: DON'T TREAD ON ME. Santorum between your sheets? DON'T TREAD ON ME. Tom De Lay paying bedside visits to your dying wife: DON'T TREAD ON ME. Christianists telling you your Jesus ain't their Jesus, and their Jesus is the right one: DON'T TREAD ON ME. Isn't it simpler to say to the disaffected: Republicans may once have defended your liberties against an encroaching state, but no more. Today it is the Democratic Party which defends the traditional, "conservative" values of our Founding Fathers (who are no doubt rolling over in their graves at the mockery this administration has made of their intentions).

Remember the realignment that occurred when Southern Dems became Republicans, because that's where the racism had gone and race-baiting was their favorite sport? Imagine the realignment that will occur when people realize Republicans have abandoned the values of our Founding Fathers. It doesn't require us to change our name, only clarify that we stand for what they stood for. It's the same idea Kos is pushing, but it's simpler and strikes me as a better tactic than buying into the sham notion that there is something inherently wrong with the Democratic Party, which must now reinvent itself as a hybrid beast with the head of Brian Schweitzer and the body of the Cato Institute.

Friday, May 05, 2006

The Earth is Nothing

Damn we are insignificant next to the sun.

It got me thinking about the end of life as we know it. Again. I feel like young Alvy Singer in Annie Hall, who stops doing his homework because "the universe is expanding." If the universe is expanding, that means it will break apart someday and that'll be the end of everything. "What's the point?" he asks. We're supposed to laugh at his lack of perspective - this cold fate lies billions of years in the future - but I was young Alvy's age the first time I saw the film, and I remember thinking, "Holy crap, he's right! What's the point?"

Of course with the benefit of age I now realize it's much worse than I thought. The sun will burn out long before the universe breaks apart. What then? The end of the earth means the end of Sophocles, Shakespeare, Schopenhauer, Whitman, Thoreau, Bach, The Beatles, Kurosawa, Godard, my porn collection. Forget my little films. It all seems so futile. Like donating money to Democrats.

I recently traveled to Niger where I spent some time trying to buy yellowcake KIDDING! among the Touaregs. What, a herd of German SUVs? No, silly American, the original nomadic population of the Sahel. Nomads. The very concept strikes us as quaint. But looking at that picture of the sun, I realized that if we survive its extinction (big if, given the way things are going) it will be as space-faring nomads strung out through the heavens, confined to soup can city-states, each with its own sovereignty, style, politics and culture, and artificial gravity (we love being grounded). This will not be a happy time. I just don't see the nomadic lifestyle doing it for us. Do you?

The life of a Touareg nomad is extremely difficult, despite having more than a thousand years of practice. We who have been raised in the West, among abundant supplies of water, food and shelter, have developed a murderous attachment to comfort, and though we may cop to the guilty pleasures of Star Trek Voyager, TV is one thing, reality another. What worries me is that we only have a billion years or so before that is brought home to us once and for all.

My Privates

Interesting New York Times article on the deal a private US real-estate investor had to make to buy into the public-housing market in Germany.

Why aren't our mayors demanding these kinds of concessions when similar deals are made here? Privitization will continue apace unless the Bolivian model suddenly takes off in el Norte (a fantasy outcome that would warm the cockles of my Communitarian heart) but will it be done right? Much like globalization, the question isn't if but how.

Re: real estate, the real question stateside is new development, an issue very much on my mind as Bruce Ratner prepares to turn a large swath of downtown Brooklyn, blocks from my apartment, into a mini-Vegas Strip. The project has elicited a lot of controversy: is Vegas worse than the hole in the earth currently occupied by an MTA trunk line? Can we learn more from a subway routing station than we can from Las Vegas? Community activists are demanding more affordable housing units to be included in the project.

In Germany they demanded similar protections and got them. Why not here?

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Incompetent President Blames Press, Democrats for His Failures

Washington, March 9 2006. George Bush continued his lifelong vacation from personal responsibility today when he called a surprise press conference to blame a surprised press and quivering Congressional Democrats for the catastrophe in Iraq.

With that country teetering on the edge of civil war – a situation that could easily have been avoided if the President and the civilian leadership of the Pentagon had 1) actually planned for the post-invasion phase of the war, and 2) sent enough troops to quell looting and properly stabilize post-Saddam Iraq, as General Shinseki recommended to the Senate Armed Services Committee well in advance of the invasion – the President today lashed out at his critics as bearing the primary responsibility for his failures there.

“I don’t care if the Republican Party controls the White House, the House of Representatives and the Senate. I don’t care if I’ve got Rumsfeld and the Joint Chiefs wrapped around my finger. I don’t care if Shinseki warned me this thing would take 400,000 men. Fuck it! Those are facts, and facts don’t mean shit! Nietzsche said that. I’m paraphrasing. I don’t care about a complacent Supreme Court, and I don’t care if the press rolled over like a dead dog in the run-up to this thing. They’re criticizing me now, and that’s why we’re going to lose this war. Sure, any sane person would look at the situation and say the buck stops here. Well, I’ve got one word for Harry Truman: SCREW YOU! America isn’t governed by sane people anymore. Sure, a nation of true patriots, driven mad by my unending incompetence, would have risen up and driven a pitchfork through me by now. Lucky for me the loud, rude, rebellious gang who founded this country have been replaced by snivelling, servile sycophants. What? Surprised I know what sycophant means? I got better grades at Yale than John Kerry did, don’t forget. Sure, in the past a man with his hands on every lever of control might be held responsible for his actions, but that demands a burning passion for justice and an iron grip on reality. Those days are long gone. We no longer inhabit a reality-based world. The future is faith-based, baby! My faith tells me that we were just about to turn the corner in Iraq when the press started carping about how I do things. If only I’d listened to the evil doers in the Congress and France, if only I’d planned more better, if only I’d adapted quckerly, if only I could admit my mistakes. What mistakes? I’ve got one thing to say to the press: Boo fucking hoo. If it weren’t for you I could’ve won this thing. Despite your spinelessness, powerlessness, and general ass-kissing irrelevance, I hold you 100% responsible for all the questions I never asked, for all the plans I never made, for whatever actions I failed to order, and for every problem that has arisen or will arise in the future. It may appear that as President I have something to say about the final outcome in Iraq. Don’t make me laugh! This war is going to end in the biggest clusterfuck since Little Big Horn, and for that I hold the press entirely responsible. Now, if you’ll excuse me, the Vice President wants to show me how you shoot a man in the face and manage to turn yourself into the victim. I have a feeling that’ll come in real handy in the midterms.”

The President then gave the gathered journalists the finger, wiped his ass with the Constitution, and left the room.

Congressional Democrats, when asked for their reaction to the President’s statement, wet their pants and immediately called a press conference of their own to blame radicals in their party and a handful of progressive bloggers for their expected upset defeat in the 2006 midterm elections.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Krazy Kats

If you want the best roundup on the Danish cartoons, a topic that seems more important in the grand scheme of things than local - by which I mean national - politics (you know, things like destroying the Republican party and impeaching the President - important to be sure, but nowhere near as important as drawing a line in the sand against those who would outlaw laughter, especially mocking laughter) then you've got to read Sully.

Keep scrolling. It's all good.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Funny Business

Two great articles about the Danish cartoons and the violence that erupted in their wake (a wake that rolled along quietly for months until someone gave it a little help).

In the right corner, Claudia Rossett. I happen to agree with most of this, despite the fact that I'm a bleeding heart liberal and a pacifist (until someone really pisses me off).

If there was ever a moment when the left could agree with the right (who am I kidding? I mean show up the right) it is in rejecting the fundamentalist attitude that places the delicate sensibilities of some above the free speech rights of all. It's an attitude not unknown among our American fundamentalists, which may explain why Bush's State Department and its dependents abroad are making statements like this. Nothing like playing both sides in the War on Terror!

In the left corner, Digby. His apologia for Muslim fury and his indictment of Western indignation at that fury is food for thought. Nevertheless, the violence the cartoons have engendered is beyond the pale and gives creedence, sadly, to the idea that we are involved in a "clash of civilizations." If we are, better to get it out in the open.

Finally, I wonder if it has occurred to any of the outraged Muslims currently boycotting Danish products, setting fire to Scandinavian embassies, or issuing death threats to cartoonists and their publishers, that a prohibition on ridiculing the powerful – even the holy – is one of the reasons most of them live under tyrants? I know I enjoy being able to belittle our little tyrant, Shrubya, without fear of being beheaded. Spied on, yes. Beheaded, no.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Top Ten of the Last Ten

I hate "to do" lists. But I love "to love" lists. (Did you just throw up in your mouth a little? Good. I was joking.) But I do love, love, love the movies. I have since my dad let me stay up past my bedtime in the third grade so we could watch Woody Allen's Sleeper. My top ten list always changes. Here is the latest version.

(I also love to hear what other people who love movies love. Feel free to leave your Top Ten in the comments section - or simply suggest additions to mine - and I'll discuss them here.)

THE CELEBRATION (for film students, there is Before The Celebration - BTC - and After The Celebration - ATC)

GUMMO (There were 60 people in my film school class; 2 of us liked it, everyone else hated it with a white hot hate, but Gus Van Sant is on our side. His review convinced me to see it. It ended: "I wish I had made this movie." What a perfect criterion for judging a film!)

NAKED (How a movie about a smart-arse can so brilliantly propagate an atmosphere of millenial doom is beyond me. I love this movie. I'm terrified by it. I wish I had made it. And maybe I will!)

BOTTLE ROCKET (Sometimes you watch a movie and you think it's one thing, and then at the last second the director does something, say he pulls a shot into slo-mo, and it forces you to instantaneously re-evaluate the film's tone and meaning, and it becomes a whole lot deeper than you thought. This is one of those.)

RUSHMORE (I want to sell a t-shirt that reads: "No, it was the handjob." Although picking out one favorite line from this film full of great lines is nearly impossible.)

THE KINGDOM (OK, this was a Danish TV series, but I watched all four one hour episodes in one sitting, then rewound the tape and watched it again, so shut up)

LOST IN TRANSLATION (I wanted to hate this movie, as I wanted to hate her previous film The Virgin Suicides. All I need is for the daughter of film royalty, who happens to be rich, pretty and popular, to also be a brilliant director, but she is and whenever I can't decide which DVD to pull down from my shelf, I watch this and am never disappointed. It's as close to perfect as a film can get.)

FIREWORKS (Takeshi Kitano's best film, though his recent Zatoichi is a close second. Incredible use of editing and visual suggestion. Kitano is also the star, and his performance is one of the finest ever captured on film.)

RATCATCHER (This film is stunningly shot, beautifully written, and the performances are so real it makes you wonder where Scottish casting agents find their actors, and where Hollywood casting agents don't.)

Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN (If Godard were Mexican and liked sex as much as sexual politics, he might have made this movie.)

THE LIMEY (Soderbergh proves that narrative film still has a few tricks left up its sleeve)

THE SADDEST MUSIC IN THE WORLD (By a Guy from Winnipeg, a city whose fierce climate breeds genius apparently.)

GHOST IN THE SHELL (If you've never watched anime, start here. The ideas in this film, copied - sort of - in The Matrix and other futuristic flicks, still keep me up. One of the most prescient films ever made.)

CLOSE-UP (By Abbas Kiarostami; the movie is older than ten years, but was released here only recently; a neo-realist post-modern meta-docu-ficiton about film and the culture of fame. In Iran.)

I know that's more than ten, but this is my blog, not yours, and I didn't major in math. If you want mathematical precision, you can read something else.

His Name is Shi Tao

More on the Chinese journalist sentenced to ten years in prison with a little help from your friends at Yahoo. Amnesty International is on the case.

The greatest hope for increased openness and democracy in China comes from the internet. It can provide tools not just to members of the Politburo, or the business class, but to ordinary citizens. And though the internets threaten the very survival of this (or any) authoritarian regime, it would be suicide to bar the door. The market dictates that the internet be admitted. And that means free speech and open debate must be admitted along with it.

At least that was the idea.

Who expected American tech companies, most run by right (make that left) thinking Liberals from sunny Sunnyvale and other West Coast Edens, would in fact bolster the longevity of tyrants by voluntarily de-democratizing their revolutionary applications?

Oh well. As Sergio Leone might say, Per Qualche Dollaro in Piu. I have asked those of you who Yahoo to stop. I ask again. You have other choices (so far). And even if other companies have signed the Public Pledge on Self-Discipline for the Chinese Internet Industry, none have assisted the Chinese secret police in prosecuting a journalist. Only Yahoo can claim that dubious distinction.

It's up to you to make them pay.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Tao of Yahoo

A while back I posted an entry entitled "Die, Yahoo!" (excitability in the defense of liberty is no vice) about that internet provider's kowtowing to the Chinese government, which it has helped quash the free exchange of ideas ever since signing the Orwellian "Public Pledge on Self-Discipline for the China Internet Industry." The pledge works like this: the Chinese government asks you to block certain search terms - the really radical ones, like "democracy" - and you kiss their Communist ass and do it. Yahoo is the most egregious offender, but Microsoft and now Google have joined them in the hall of shame.

Well, Congress has taken note.

Chris Smith is a Republican, but before you run in horror, I'd like to tell you about him. He is an important supporter of the maternal health work that NGOs (like the one my fiancée works for) are doing in Africa. He's one of those nutty Christians whose faith actually compels them to seek out and assist the poor wherever they are found. (I think Jesus said something about it. That guy couldn't shut up about the poor!) Without his advocacy, obstetric fistula would not be getting the attention and financial resources it deserves from the US Government. Now he is taking on the sniveling greedheads of Silicon Valley. These corporate cowards had the power to stand up to China (yes, it would have cost them, after all, "Freedom isn't free") but instead they caved.

Please write Congressman Smith - and your own - and urge them to take your internet provider to task. A billion people are counting on you.