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An Awesome & Mighty Thing, This First Ever Lawyers, Guns & Money Podcast Is

[ 66 ] January 25, 2013 |

It features Yours Truly and the Farley fellow you see primping there in preview—or wearing a hat, now that I had to re-upload the video—and we’re talking about The Hobbit. You’re … welcome?

It goes without saying that there are kinks to work out—if only because I’m in charge of the production—and that while many Internet Traditions are honored, some are violated. Case in point: the blog’s beloved ampersand is a monstrosity in the font the rest of the credits need to be in. (I promise that sentence will make perfect sense once you watch it.) An “enhanced” audio file will be available shortly, though I can’t vouch for the quality of said “enhancements” because we haven’t figured out what they’ll be yet outside of “enhanced.”

But fear not! You’ll learn many things in this podcast, including (but not limited to) which of you lot inspire us to invent gang signs just so we can throw some in your honor. And also many things about The Hobbit.  Enjoy!

[Rob] Apparently I make extremely effective martinis…

Fellowship of the Ring: Conventions of Genre, Sorta Kinda Part the Second

[ 181 ] January 24, 2013 |

(Actual Part the First can be found here.)

The answer to the question of why some films are more re-watchable than others seems, to me, a matter of unpredictability of shot selection. We can all watch episodes of Law & Order half-asleep because we all know that any close-up of one character’s face will reverse to a close-up of his or her interlocutor’s. (The possibility of deviating from the script-bible is basically asymptotic: the staleness of the formula makes it look increasingly likely but it can’t ever actually happen.) And despite my general objections to Fellowship I’ll admit that its iconic scenes are rightly remembered because Peter Jackson bucked his horror roots and embraced an unpredictability that verges on randomness. To wit, consider the scene-setting that preceded Gandalf’s most infamous exclamation, which begins half-way through the mines of Moria with a close-up on Gandalf:

Fellowship of the ring00004
Did I say “close-up”? I meant “extreme close-up,” because Jackson’s lopped off the top of his head. That might not seem so important, but consider it in more mundane terms, for example, if this were a picture you took of a friend at a party. How happy would your friend be with a photograph in which he’d been a “bit” beheaded? How would you feel about framing your friend’s face such that it shared the spotlight with a few lines of mortar and some unfocused negative space? This shot feels wrong because it violates the conventions that makes Law & Order and the like such successful soporifics. It’s an ugly and unbalanced shot, but I’d wager it’s meant to discomfit, if only because Jackson’s going to repeat it so frequently in the next three minutes that this is the last time I’m going to mention it. Just remember that it’s wrong to borrow chunks of people’s heads for rhetorical effect. From here Jackson cuts to Frodo:

Read more…

Damn it, Bill

[ 73 ] January 21, 2013 |

I defended Obama against Althouse et al.‘s unfounded and visually illiterate accusations, but I just can’t bring myself to back the Big Dog when he’s so obviously enjoying the view:

Because nobody has any other reason to read.

[ 43 ] January 13, 2013 |

LITTLE KID comes to SEK’s door to retrieve the basketball he launched onto SEK’s porch.

LITTLE KID: Hi. My basketball landed on your—WOW. You have so many books!

SEK: I know, I’m a tea—

LITTLE KID: ARE YOU A WIZARD?

SEK: Why else would I have so many books?

LITTLE KID: (turning around) MOM HE’S A WIZARD! I MET A WIZARD!

SEK: Let me get you your—

LITTLE KID: WIIIIIIZZZZZZAAAAAARRRRRRDDDDDD!

As long as the “conversation” about guns concerns hypotheticals about fictions …

[ 38 ] December 31, 2012 |

… I don’t see the harm in adding more fictions to the hypotheticals. Given that the opposition’s evidence is the “millions” of home-invasions that’ve been thwarted yearly, or most probably even hourly, by gun-savvy Common People Who Love The Constitution More Than Dirty Liberals Do, I don’t see why Dirty Liberals oughta restrict themselves to reality. And so:

Q.E.D.

CHRISTMAS!

[ 54 ] December 20, 2012 |

Copyright (c) 1980, 1982, 1983, 2006 Sekocom, Inc.  All rights reserved.
CHRISTMAS! is a registered trademark of Sekocom, Inc.
Revision 23 / Serial number 8940726

West of Apartment Complex

You are standing in an open field west of a white apartment complex, with a boarded front door.  There is a small mailbox here.

> go home

You turn to your left and find yourself at an airport. The line of weary parents and unsupervised children snakes around the airport twice.

> stand line

You find the first available line and deposit yourself and your luggage at the end of it. In front of you is a college student of indeterminate age with suspect hygiene. To your right is an incontinent child.

> ignore

You are unable to ignore the stale sweat with its hints of Adderall and vodka. The child to your right is making a face.

> stop face

You grab the child by the face. Its father lunges at you. He is carrying the child, a camera case, a man-purse, a laptop bag, a carry-on, three large suitcases, his wife’s hat and two pairs of sunglasses.

> fuck him

Are you sure you want to do that here?

> fine punch dad

You strike the father in the face and make contact with one pair of sunglasses, a camera case, a carry-on, one large suitcase and his wife’s hat. The child resumes making a face.

> stop face

You grab the child by the face. Its mother lunges at you. She is carrying a copy of 50 Shades of Grey, a lady-purse, a child’s car-seat and a pet-carrier containing a small yapping animal.

> kick mom

You kick the mother in her lady-purse. She throws 50 Shades of Grey at your head but it strikes the unkempt college student in his. As he turns around she drops the pet-carrier and looses the small yapping animal. The family chases after it as screams of “Rat! Rat!” echo through the terminal.

> cut in line

You occupy the place vacated by the family. A few of your fellows-in-line shoot you disapproving looks but they are too demoralized to care. Five hours later you reach the ticket counter and receive your boarding pass.

> bout fucking time

There is no one here for you to fuck. You walk to your gate and await the initiation of boarding procedures. Hours pass. Centuries. Kingdoms rise and fall. Great men are born and die alone on sodden streets. Women are elected to offices higher and highest. Hot coffee spills from your tilted cup onto your most sensitive parts.

> GET IT OFF

The coffee has soaked through your boxers and threatens to weld them to your skin. Your favorite bits will never work again.

> JUST A DREAM

This is no dream.

> JUST A DREAM

You are wide awake and in unimaginable pain. You begin to imagine life a life without–

> AM DREAMING AND CAN NARRATE OWN LIFE. PRECIOUS BITS ARE FINE. COMPUTER LIES.

You begin to imagine life with–

> GRUE! AM LIKELY TO BE EATEN BY GRUE!

You are?

> YES PLEASE GRUE PLEASE NOW!

Because its jaws are fearsome and it loves coffee …

[Previous installments include DISADVENTURE!DISADDENDUM!, DISMORALIZED!DISINSOMNIA!WHARTON!GRADING!DISBELIEF! and DISCONVENTION!.]

What is “violent rhetoric”? Redux

[ 101 ] December 19, 2012 |

The conservatives currently hounding Erik clearly never read this post. If they had, they’d realize that there’s a difference between a gun control advocate saying someone needs to be shot and a gun rights advocate doing the same. Rhetoric is only “violent” when its intent is encourage violent acts to a receptive audience. Putting the head of a President on a pike in a television show that appeals to violent barbarians is one thing — being a labor historian who “demands” the head of a paramilitary organization “on a stick” is another entirely. Not a single member of Erik’s Twitter audience took his tweet as an incitement to violence. The same couldn’t be said, for example, if Wayne LaPierre had tweeted the very same thing about someone trying to take away his right to bear fully automatic weapons with extended magazines. Why?

Because LaPierre’s audience includes heavily armed people prone to violence, whereas Erik’s consists of pacifistic homosexual tree-huggers.*

The long and short of it is simple: if you come upon a discussion of rhetoric in which people completely ignore the issue of audience, don’t take them seriously because they’re not making a rhetorical argument.

*I must add that I’m impressed: Erik got someone to read his dissertation. That kind of suckering is Internet Tradition-worthy if ever anything was.

Time to arm the union thugs!

[ 158 ] December 15, 2012 |

The comment of the day goes to Sly:

So I’m a teacher. According to conservative orthodoxy, I’m a parasite on the public’s dime who is only interested in indoctrinating the precious children of America into communism or atheism or whatever. I can’t be trusted to have any control over the curriculum I teach. I can’t be trusted to fairly and impartially evaluate my students, let alone my colleagues. I can’t be trusted to have collective bargaining rights. I can’t be trusted to have an objective view of governmental policy when it comes to my own profession.

But they’ll trust me to keep a gun in a room filled with children.

Even the cynicism-producing neurons of my prefrontal cortex can’t wrap themselves around this kind of stupid bullshit.

Funny how that works

[ 167 ] December 14, 2012 |

The phrase “you don’t think something like that would happen here” is always uttered by white reporters about mass shootings in white neighborhoods, and the implication is that “you” would “think” something like that would happen black or brown people in the inner city.

Only it never happens to black or brown people in the inner city. It’s always a white person in a white neighborhood.

What’s another word for “Gah”?

[ 49 ] December 13, 2012 |

SEK: What you have here is a solid B+ paper. You need to elevate your diction if you want to convince me that this is an A.

STUDENT: So I need to sound more academic?

SEK: Yes.

STUDENT: So I need to predicate the logic of my arguments on rhetorical substance of the visual nature of the dynamic?

SEK: Come again?

STUDENT: If I accentuate the propositional strength of my argumentative units —

SEK: What are you doing?

STUDENT: Convincing you to give me an A?

SEK: Don’t be that guy.

And the Album of the Year is…

[ 97 ] December 11, 2012 |

not Wrecking Ball. So what is it? My curiosity isn’t merely idle either — I’m headed home in a week and need some company on incredibly long drives across a lot of Texas nothing.

(Comments with links to videos or performances are encouraged.)

Against Springsteen

[ 129 ] December 11, 2012 |

According to Rolling Stone, Bruce Springsteen’s Wrecking Ball is the best album released this year. Why? Because of lyrics like:

Gambling man rolls the dice, working man pays the bill.
It’s still fat and easy up on banker’s hill.

They “rage at corporate oligarchy and economic injustice,” things at which I’m raging too, so I completely understand why Rolling Stone would think they’re good: it agrees with them. There’s only one problem: they’re not. The state of political rhetoric is such that feeble statements of solidarity pass for insight. We’ve traded genius for blandished agreement, resulting in a situation in which we praise people for writing:

There ain’t no help.
The cavalry stayed home.

I wouldn’t be complaining were it not for the fact that, of all people, it’s Springsteen they’re praising for rehashing tired polemic. Because part of the reason I’m lefter than I’ve any right to be is that this same Springsteen fellow once made me feel the anger and hopelessness to which he only here alludes. If you’ve never seen the debut performance of “The River,” do yourself a favor and do so right now. I can wait.

Granted, “The River” isn’t an explicitly political song–it’s decidedly lacking in policy statements–but it’s a far more compelling vision of what lives are like “on account of the economy” than the broadsides found on Wrecking Ball. Let’s start with the titular and abiding image: a river. What are rivers like? To trade one bard for another, here’s John McPhee on the Mississippi in his “Atchafalaya“:

Southern Louisiana exists in its present form because the Mississippi River has jumped here and there within an arc about two hundred miles wide, like a pianist playing with one hand—frequently and radically changing course, surging over the left or the right bank to go off in utterly new directions. Always it is the river’s purpose to get to the Gulf by the shortest and steepest gradient. As the mouth advances southward and the river lengthens, the gradient declines, the current slows, and sediment builds up the bed. Eventually, it builds up so much that the river spills to one side. Major shifts of that nature have tended to occur roughly once a millennium. The Mississippi’s main channel of three thousand years ago is now the quiet water of Bayou Teche, which mimics the shape of the Mississippi. Along Bayou Teche, on the high ground of ancient natural levees, are Jeanerette, Breaux Bridge, Broussard, Olivier—arcuate strings of Cajun towns. Eight hundred years before the birth of Christ, the channel was captured from the east. It shifted abruptly and flowed in that direction for about a thousand years. In the second century a.d., it was captured again, and taken south, by the now unprepossessing Bayou Lafourche, which, by the year 1000, was losing its hegemony to the river’s present course, through the region that would be known as Plaquemines. By the nineteen-fifties, the Mississippi River had advanced so far past New Orleans and out into the Gulf that it was about to shift again, and its offspring Atchafalaya was ready to receive it.

The point being that rivers are forces of nature that even the Army Corps of Engineers can only control until the occasional Katrina. Going “down to the river,” as Springsteen’s narrator and compatriots do, is the contemporary equivalent of worshiping a mountain on account of its orogeny. It’s there and demands homage and besides where else are you going to go when that thing is there? The song begins with an idyllic, if limited, vision of life in America:

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